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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

February 26, 2002

We're getting a lot of questions about our annual Top 100 Prospects list. It's in the issue we're working on right now, which subscribers should get next week. We also plan to post it on this site on Friday, and I'll be around in the afternoon to chat with you about who ranks where, who got left off and why.

Subscribers also should enjoy a couple of interesting features that will be part of the Top 100 mix in the issue. First, Allan Simpson spent hours researching what the tops of the Top 100 lists would have looked like—had we started doing them in 1951 rather than in 1990. I won't tell you who's No. 1 on our current list, but I will let slip that Yankees shortstop Mickey Mantle would have been No. 1 in 1951 and Braves righthander Gene Conley would have been the best of the 1952 crop.

Also, there were several positions (righthanded pitcher, first base, third base, shortstop and outfield) where there was no clear-cut top prospect, so I talked to a bevy of scouts to settle those arguments. Their choices and reasoning will be a big part of the next issue, along with scouting grades on all their tools.

    When Rafael Furcal broke camp with the Braves following 2000 spring training, he was touted as the first player born in the 1980s to play in the major leagues. Now that it's known that he was actually born in the 1970s, who was the first player from the 1980s to play in the majors?

    Erick Metzger
    Reynoldsburg, Ohio

While the Braves won't officially recognize Furcal's revised birthdate of Aug. 24, 1978, most everyone else does. So that means that Albert Pujols currently holds the title of being the first child of the 1980s to reach the big leagues, beating C.C. Sabathia by six days. There have been rumors that Pujols could be as much as three years older than his listed birthdate, and a few other ages below may be suspect as well. As of today, here's the complete list of the 11 1980s-born players who have appeared in the majors, all of whom debuted last year:

PlayerBornDebut
Albert PujolsJan. 16, 1980April 2, 2001
C.C. SabathiaJuly 21, 1980April 8, 2001
Jesus ColomeJune 2, 1980June 21, 2001
Cesar IzturisFeb. 10, 1980June 23, 2001
Felipe LopezAug. 3, 1980Aug. 3, 2001
Carlos HernandezApril 22, 1980Aug. 18, 2001
Nick NeugebauerJuly 15, 1980Aug. 19, 2001
Carlos ZambranoJune 1, 1981Aug. 20, 2001
Josh BeckettMay 15, 1980Sept. 4, 2001
Angel BerroaJan. 27, 1980Sept. 18, 2001
Wilson BetemitNov. 2, 1981Sept. 18, 2001

    I just got the 2002 Prospect Handbook, and it's a great publication. I'm really enjoying it. My question is, where is second baseman Adam Morrissey on the Athletics list? I know he was just traded there this winter, but so was Carlos Pena and he was Oakland's No. 1 prospect. I don't think Morrissey is Pena, obviously, but how can he not be in the Top 30?

    Bob Scharnberger
    Silver Spring, Md.

Anyone who ordered the Prospect Handbook directly from Baseball America should have it by now or should get it in the next couple of days, and it should start appearing in major bookstores very soon. I anticipate a lot of questions about where players were ranked and why certain guys didn't make the book, so keep those coming.

I'd put Morrissey in the category of guys who have intriguing statistics and below-standard tools. At age 20 and in his first taste of full-season ball, Morrissey hit .309-14-62 with a stellar 82-80 strikeout-walk ratio at low Class A Lansing last year. Despite his youth and performance, he got no support for the Midwest League Top 20 Prospects list. He's also shaky defensively. He appeared in 46 games at second base, 32 in the outfield, 27 at third base and two at shortstop. If he's an infielder, and there seems to be a consensus that he's really not, than his future would be considerably brighter than if he's relegated to an outfield corner.

Morrissey definitely bears watching but he's far from a sure thing. He's going to have to boost his power if he's an outfielder. The Cubs decided that Mark Bellhorn might help them in a utility role this year, so they traded Morrissey to Oakland last November. The A's obviously like Morrissey somewhat, but they want to see where he fits before getting excited about him.

    I am very intrigued by Toronto's minor league catching duo of Josh Phelps and Jayson Werth. It's hard to imagine Phelps being bad enough behind the plate to warrant moving him and his big stick to another position. Then, however, not many teams have an alternative as strong as Jayson Werth, who's no slouch with the bat either. Who's going to come out on top and when? Who moves where?

    Michael Bush
    Billings, Mont.

It's time for an about-face on my part. Last summer I questioned the chances of Phelps to handle catching chores in the big leagues because he was having trouble throwing out runners in Double-A. He erased just 18 percent of basestealers, the worst figure among the Southern League's regular catchers, while Werth finished third overall at 38 percent for the same club. I liked Phelps' bat, but figured he'd fit in the lineup elsewhere while Werth stayed behind the plate.

It since has come out that Phelps had a knee injury that severely affected his footwork and mechanics. Accuracy, not arm strength, apparently was his problem. He's over the elbow problems that limited him to DH for much of 2000 and should be 100 percent defensively in 2002. The Blue Jays rave about his receiving and game-calling skills, and it's not out of the question that he'll be their regular catcher by the end of the season. Werth is athletic enough to play on an outfield corner, though that's not exactly a position of need in Toronto right now. Another Jays catcher to watch is former nondrafted free agent Kevin Cash, while Joe Lawrence has shed the tools of ignorance and will return to third base.

    What do you think of Orioles 2001 draft pick Bryan Bass? Do you think he will come up as a shortstop or third baseman? He seems to have a very solid build at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds. Also what do you anticipate for the future of Orioles lefthander Matt Riley? Do you think he can come back successfully from Tommy John surgery to be the dominant pitcher people expected him to be?

    Josh Krauss
    Darnestown, Md.

I like Bryan Bass a lot. He made a huge impression in his pro debut by hitting a combined .310-5-27 in 40 games between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and Appalachian leagues after he missed almost all of the high school season after a transfer snafu led to him being declared ineligible. He's a switch-hitter with pop from both sides of the plate, and he's athletic enough to have been offered a scholarship to play wide receiver at the University of the Alabama. Despite that background, he's probably not quite quick enough to play shortstop at the big league level. If Ed Rogers develops offensively, Bass wouldn't take shortstop away from Rogers anyway. It's most likely that Bass will be a third baseman down the road for the Orioles. While he could play second base, fellow 2001 first-rounder Mike Fontenot or Jerry Hairston Jr. likely will claim that spot.

So many pitchers have returned from Tommy John surgery better than ever that I wouldn't worry too much about Riley. From a physical standpoint, he should be able to get back to throwing in the mid-90s with a plus curveball. The key will be whether the injury helped him grow up after his immaturity irked the Orioles in spring training 2000. I'd anticipate that Riley will spend most of 2002 regaining his previous form and should be able to help Baltimore in 2003.

February 22, 2002

I was going to make the lead to today's Ask BA yet another update on the incredible aging process affecting Latin American players as they re-enter the United States on new work visas. On Wednesday, we learned about Mario Encarnacion and Juan Uribe. Then it was Bartolo Colon. Then Odalis Perez bucked the trend by getting five days younger.

And on and on it went. The age changes came so fast and furious that there were simply too many to get into here today. BA webmaster Will Kimmey has taken to compiling a master list. My favorite thus far is Reds prospect Luis Pineda, who just aged from 23 to 27. At four years, he moves ahead of previous leaders Deivi Cruz and Ramon Ortiz, who had gained three.

We've gotten the 2002 Prospect Handbook back from the printer. If you ordered directly from us, you should be receiving it shortly. It also should be in bookstores in the near future.

    I really liked the way you answered my question about the top five impact hitters from the 2001 draft. I think pitching is always a little harder to project, but I was wondering if you could do the same with the pitchers.

    Kelly Uganski
    Muskegon, Mich.

No problem. That was a fun one to project in the last edition of Ask BA. I'll answer this one in the same fashion, picking five guys from the first round and five guys from the later rounds. And just to clarify, as to why I didn't include hitters such as David Wright and Todd Linden last time, I considered the supplemental first round as part of the first round.

Here are the top five impact pitchers from the first round:

1.Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs (second overall)ETA: 2003
2.Dewon Brazelton, rhp, Devil Rays (third overall)ETA: 2003
3.J.D. Martin, rhp, Indians (35th overall)ETA: mid-2004
4.Gavin Floyd, rhp, Phillies (fourth overall)ETA: mid-2004
5.Aaron Heilman, rhp, Mets (18th overall)ETA: mid-2003

Anyone who reads this column or the magazine knows how much I love Prior's upside. And I'm not alone. As part of a feature I'm working on to accompany our Top 100 Prospects list, I've been asking scouts to compare Prior with Josh Beckett. They come out pretty even, with Beckett maintaining a slight edge mainly because he has pitched in the majors while Prior has yet to make his pro debut. Brazelton is also extremely polished and should reach the majors in a hurry, especially considering how much help the Devil Rays need. High school righthanders are always a risky demographic, no matter how talented, though the 2001 draft was loaded with them. I may be reading too much into Martin's Rookie-level Appalachian League stats (5-1, 1.38, 46 innings, 26 hits, 11 walks, 72 strikeouts), but I really, really like him. His sink, changeup and command are all major assets, and he's so projectable that he should develop plus velocity on his fastball. Floyd was picked a lot higher and has much more overpowering stuff at this point, but Martin just fascinates me. Heilman is probably more of a No. 2 or 3 starter than a No. 1, but he's a really solid pitcher who won't need much time in the minors before he can help the Mets.

And now for beyond the first round:

1.Mike Gosling, lhp, Diamondbacks (second round)ETA: mid-2003
2.Jason Arnold, rhp, Yankees (second round)ETA: 2004
3.Jesse Foppert, rhp, Giants (second round)ETA: 2004
4.Dan Haren, rhp, Cardinals (second round)ETA: 2004
5.Kyle Davies, rhp, Braves (fourth round)ETA: 2005

If the draft was based purely on talent, Gosling would have gone by the middle half of the first round. He was arguably the best lefthander in the draft. Arnold was one of several astute college senior draft picks by the Yankees last year. Foppert pitched in Taggert Bozied's shadow at the University of San Francisco, then set the short-season Northwest League on fire in his debut. Haren is a safe pick, just a solid guy kind of out of the Heilman mold with perhaps a touch more velocity. Davies always has been one of the best players in his age group, and I wouldn't be surprised if he followed Adam Wainwright's path to Atlanta. Three more guys who intrigue me are gas-throwing Blue Jays righthander Brandon League (second round), Devil Rays lefty Jon Switzer (second) and Athletics righthander Mike Wood (10th). Oakland already is comparing Wood to Tim Hudson, who was a sixth-round pick out of Auburn.

    What can you tell me about Buddy Hernandez, a relief pitcher in the Braves organization? His overall numbers last year are ridiculous: 68 innings, 41 hits, 19 walks, 106 strikeouts and a 1.60 ERA. I know he's a 5-foot-9 reliever, so he doesn't get much recognition. But I've also seen he can hit 95 mph with his fastball, so he obviously has a great arm. What else does he throw and could he potentially follow the example set by Billy Wagner and develop into a closer?

    It seems as though some baseball people are beginning to notice (especially the Astros) that the belief that small righties aren't durable may be outdated. I understand that taller pitchers have longer ligaments over which to disperse the force required to throw a baseball, but I would be willing to bet that if a study was done it would reveal that most arm injuries to pitchers are the result of poor mechanics, poor conditioning or simply bad genetics. Shorter pitchers most likely do have a greater chance of hurting their arms than taller ones, but I don't think the difference is as much as many think. What's your opinion?

    Tony Rinaldi
    Roanoke, Va.


    While I was looking at the Braves' minor league pitchers, the stats of reliever Buddy Hernandez just jumped off the page. He looks like a real strikeout artist. He was apparently an undrafted free agent, and (perhaps understandably) isn't ranked on your Braves Top 15 Prospects list. I wonder how much of this relatively low esteem is the result of him being a 5-foot-9 right-hander? And with him turning 23 this spring, what would you say his ceiling is?

    Jim Hardin
    Laurens, S.C.

Hernandez was signed as a nondrafted free agent out of North Carolina Wesleyan in 2000, on the basis of his arm strength. According to our Braves correspondent, Bill Ballew, Hernandez regularly throws in the low 90s and tops out at 94-95 mph but he lacks movement on his fastball and doesn't have a trustworthy second pitch. His success to this point has come as a surprise, and it has earned the opportunity to continue to prove himself. I'd guess that because of his age he'll go to Double-A this year, which will give a good indication as to what his future might look like. It's far too early to project him as a possible closer. For what it's worth, he didn't make the Braves Top 30 in the Prospect Handbook.

I do think teams don't hold a lack of size against righthanders as much as they used to, though it still factors into a pitcher's projectability and affects where he gets drafted. If two guys have similar stuff and one is 6-foot-4 and the other is 6 feet, the 6-foot-4 guy will get taken earlier. But it would be foolish to hold size against a pitcher too much. The Astros, for example, have had a lot of success with relatively short righthanders such as Octavio Dotel, Roy Oswalt and Tim Redding in the majors and Jose DeLeon, Mike Nannini and Kirk Saarloos in the minors.

    I have been tracking the progress of Jason Romano through the Rangers system since he was drafted. He was in line to make the majors as a second baseman until Texas acquired Michael Young from Toronto. After a good rookie season, Young appears rooted at second base. The Rangers moved Romano to outfield and he appeared to possibly have an inside track on center field until Texas traded for Carl Everett. (Interestingly, Everett and Romano both come from Hillsborough High in Tampa, also the alma mater of Gary Sheffield and Dwight Gooden.) When, if ever, will Romano make it to the majors?

    Jack Kilbride
    Tampa

Romano may surface in the majors as an injury replacement or September callup at some point in 2002, but he's not nearly ready to be a big league regular. He's going to have to show more offense as a center fielder than he will as a second baseman, and he hasn't hit much since leaving high Class A. His slugging percentage has declined from .516 in 1999 to .389 in 2000 to .369 in 2001. Another drawback is that his mediocre arm is more of a liability in center field than it was at second base. A 1997 first-rounder, he's still only 22, but his future isn't as bright as it was a year or two ago.

    I have a few questions about some Blue Jays prospects. Is infielder Jossephang Bernhardt a legit prospect after receiving a huge signing bonus as a 15-year-old in 1996? And what about their first-round picks from 1999 and 2000, Puerto Rican outfielders Alexis Rios and Miguel Negron? Will they ever make it?

    Sri Rajeswaran
    Toronto

John Manuel handles our Blue Jays prospect coverage, so I pulled him away from the college beat to answer this question. Here's what he had to say:

Bernhardt will have to make some major adjustments to be considered a legitimate prospect. His tools haven't quite measured up to early projections, in large part because he isn't selective at the plate, and he's now at first base after signing as a shortstop. If he makes it to the major leagues eventually, it will have to be as a utility player because while he's still just 21, he has yet to develop the power to project as an everyday first baseman.

Rios and Negron are quite different. The Blue Jays love Rios' swing and his physical gifts, which are starting to blossom. As he gets stronger, Toronto sees Rios becoming a power threat and possibly a five-tool player. He's the organization's No. 8 prospect. Negron checks in at No. 14 with more of a defense/speed package but less of a work ethic than Rios.

February 19, 2002

I'll open Ask BA by asking my own question: Why hasn't Major League Baseball made a ruling on Oakland's grievance about Texas' hiring of Grady Fuson? The Athletics had granted the Rangers permission to interview Fuson only for their then-vacant general manager job, and were stunned when Texas tabbed Fuson as assistant GM to John Hart on Nov. 1. Shortly thereafter, Oakland filed a grievance.

It has been more than three months now, and still no ruling. The A's reportedly asked for Hank Blalock, which sounds extreme. But if Texas clearly violated its understanding with Oakland to land one of the game's top talent evaluators, the price should be steep (though I think Blalock is a bit much). Maybe MLB is waiting for the two teams to work something out, but at this point isn't that clear it isn't going to happen?

Now I've asked two questions, so maybe I better start answering some.

    Who are the top five impact hitters from last year's draft and when can we expect to see them in the big leagues?

    Kelly Uganski
    Muskegon, Mich.

I'm going to break this question into two categories: first-round picks and non-first-round picks. If I didn't, I'd wind up just picking five first-round picks, which wouldn't be very enlightening. The ETAs are when I see them becoming big league regulars, not necessarily when they'll get their first cup of coffee.

For the first-rounders, I rank them like this:

1.Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers (fifth overall)ETA: 2003
2.Casey Kotchman, 1b, Angels (13th overall)ETA: 2004
3.Joe Mauer, c, Twins (first overall)ETA: 2004
4.Gabe Gross, of, Blue Jays (15th overall)ETA: 2003
5.Jake Gautreau, 2b, Padres (14th overall)ETA: mid-2003

All of these guys are known quantities and went in the upper half of the first round. Teixeira's credentials have been well documented by Baseball America for years, and the only real question is what position he'll wind up at in the major leagues. I'm still surprised Kotchman lasted until the 13th pick of the draft, where the Angels stole him. I would have popped him no lower than sixth. Mauer won't quite put up the raw numbers of those two guys but he could be more valuable if he stays behind the plate, which he has the athleticism to do. Gross had an eye-opening pro debut, more than holding his own in Double-A at the end of last summer. For me, he rates just slightly ahead of Gautreau, whom the Padres believe will be able to play second base. I love Yankees outfielder John-Ford Griffin (23rd overall) as much as the next guy, but I think the players on this list will hit for more power than Griffin will. And the Astros' Chris Burke (10th overall) has the potential to be one of the game's top offensive shortstops.

Here's how I see the non-first-rounders:

1.Roscoe Crosby, of, Royals (second round)ETA: 2005
2.Scott Hairston, 2b, Diamondbacks (third round)ETA: 2004
3.Tyrell Godwin, of, Blue Jays (third round)ETA: 2004
4.Brad Nelson, 1b, Brewers (fourth round)ETA: 2005
5.Jack Hannahan, 3b, Tigers (third round)ETA: 2004

Crosby would have been an early first-rounder if not for his football potential, and playing wide receiver at Clemson will take away from his baseball development and possibly lead him to the NFL. Still his upside is huge if he focuses on baseball. Hairston won the Arizona junior college triple crown and then batted .347-14-65 in his pro debut. A lot of scouts soured on Godwin, a two-time first-rounder in the past, because of questions about his desire, but he put some of those to rest by hitting .368 last summer. If he taps into his power, he could be a 30-30 guy. The Brewers compare Nelson to Sean Casey with more power. Hannahan hit .318 in full-season Class A and also showed some defensive prowess at third base.

The second list was more difficult to put together than I thought, because there were so many guys to choose from. Other candidates included (in alphabetical order): Padres second baseman Josh Barfield (fourth round), Giants third baseman Julian Benavidez (third), Devil Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes (18th), White Sox shortstop Andy Gonzalez (fifth), Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (fifth), Angels third baseman Dallas McPherson (second), Tigers third baseman Ryan Raburn (fifth), Diamondbacks third baseman Chad Tracy (seventh) and Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis (eighth).

    I'm curious about the status of a couple of Rule 5 draft pickups for Blue Jays: lefthander/outfielder Clint Johnston and righthander Corey Thurman. Johnston was an impressive outfielder for Vanderbilt and was drafted 15th overall by Pittsburgh in 1998. However, the Pirates wasted four years of his development by trying to make him into a pitcher. At 24, is he now a legitimate position prospect or a longshot project? Also, do you think that Thurman will be a valuable addition to the Toronto bullpen in 2002? He appears to be a workhorse.

    Chris Thompson
    Halifax, Nova Scotia

Johnston had more success as a hitter than as a pitcher while in college, and most teams probably would have made him an outfielder after signing him. That's what the Blue Jays plan to do after getting him in the Triple-A Rule 5 draft for just $12,000, a sign of how far he has fallen. The Pirates kept him on the mound for four seasons, during which he never got past Class A. Overall, he went 10-12, 4.26 with 212 strikeouts in 209 innings. As promising a hitter as he once was, I see him as a longshot because he's 24 and has just 14 pro at-bats in the last four years.

Thurman, a major league Rule 5 selection, must be kept on the big league roster all season or be exposed to waivers and then offered back to the Royals for half his $50,000 purchase price. While it's a bit surprising that Kansas City didn't protect him on its 40-man roster, the Royals used their one open roster spot to draft promising righthander Miguel Asencio from the Phillies. Thurman is an example of how there's useful bullpen fodder to be had in the Rule 5 draft. He went 13-5, 3.37 with 148 strikeouts in 155 Double-A innings last year at age 22. His fastball-curveball mix is solid average and should make him a viable middle reliever.

    I was just reading BA's Top 10 Prospects list for the Red Sox, and I was surprised to see no mention of second baseman Angel Santos. His numbers in Trenton last year were pretty good for a 21-year-old (.271 BA, .343 OBP, .416 SLG, 26-9 SB-CS), and he even reached Boston for a cup of coffee last year. It was his second year in Double-A but he still was young for the league. I expect him to open 2002 in Triple-A Pawtucket and be ready for the majors by midseason 2003 at the latest. Is there some reason why Santos isn't regarded very highly?

    Michael Byrnes
    Mountain View, Calif.

While Santos didn't make the Boston list in our American League East Top 10 issue, he's listed with the Red Sox Top 30 in the 2002 Prospect Handbook, albeit toward the bottom. A fourth-round pick in 1997 out of Puerto Rico, he's a prospect—but a fringe prospect who projects as a utilityman more than as a big league regular. He has decent pop for a middle infielder and good speed, though he strikes out too much. He's only adequate defensively and scouts don't like his inconsistent effort. The Boston system is almost devoid of middle-infield prospects, which makes him look better by comparison.

    I just got done checking out your Tigers Top 10 Prospects rundown and it was definitely encouraging. One question, however: What's wrong with Ronnie Merrill? He didn't even crack the Top 30 last year and didn't make the Top 15 again this year. He seems to be putting up some pretty solid numbers for a second baseman. What are you guys seeing that we aren't?

    Jim Penner
    Lansing, Mich.

Like Santos, Merrill is a future utilityman who didn't make it into the magazine but is part of his team's Top 30 in the Prospect Handbook. Though he has hit .310 in two seasons as a pro since signing as a seventh-round pick out of the University of Tampa in 2000, he doesn't have an overwhelming tool. His power, speed, range and arm are nothing special. Now 23, he has hit for average and can play an adequate second base, third base or shortstop. But in a system teeming with middle-infield prospects, it's even more of a stretch to project him becoming an everyday player in the majors.

February 15, 2002

The trend of players being caught falsifying their ages continues, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that three Braves players, including 2000 Rookie of the Year Rafael Furcal, were found to be older than they had claimed.

Furcal was born in 1978 rather than 1980, making him 23. It also casts his stunning major league debut in a different light, as he was thought to have set a record for stolen bases by a teenager, with his 40 surpassing Ty Cobb's 23. It also validates an HBO report that year that Furcal wasn't as young as he maintained, which he and the Braves denied.

The AJC reported in addition to Furcal, catcher Steve Torrealba is older than his listed age of 23 and minor league catcher Luis Taveras is older than his listed age of 24. The newspaper didn't report their new, corrected ages. Expect many more of these cases to surface as players get visas to report to spring training.

    If you're not tired of Ishiimania, I have two questions. Back in December, you thought Kazuhisa Ishii would rank no lower than third on the Dodgers Top 10 Prospects list. Now that he's officially signed after your National League West lists have been released, could you give us a ranking? From your predictions, it sounds like he has a case for the top spot. Also, there was talk early on that Ishii was the Randy Johnson of Japan, which I found ridiculous and reminiscent of the Hideki Irabu carnival in 1997. A more fitting comparison would be helpful in evaluating his performance, as well as seeing through the hype. What major league pitcher would be a good comparison to Ishii? The best I came up with was Chuck Finley.

    Jim Harmon
    New Paltz, N.Y.

I'll digress for a moment to say that we mean no insult to the Japanese major leagues when we evaluate their established players as "prospects." As I pointed out a week ago, most of the players who have come to the United States from Japan have been as good here as they were there, which says something about the caliber of the Japanese leagues.

We don't rerelease our prospects lists to adjust for transactions, and Ishii signed too late to make the 2002 Prospect Handbook. But if we were doing the list today, I wouldn't hesitate to make him No. 1. Righthander Ricardo Rodriguez has good stuff but it's not as good as Ishii's and Rodriguez spent last year in high Class A at age 22. Ishii had a lot of success in Japan, and according to Japanese expert/Friend of Ask BA Gary Garland, he throws 92-96 mph with a nasty slider and effective forkball. Gary reports that Ishii had some shoulder discomfort last season, though the Dodgers must have checked that out and cleared him before spending $23.5 million to sign him. We're still working on our overall Top 100 Prospects list, but I put Ishii at No. 42 on mine and worry that might be selling him short.

The Randy Johnson comparison is a bit much, considering that Johnson is only one of the best lefthanders in major league history. But while Ishii isn't that good, he may have a better power arsenal than any of the other big league lefties. His stuff probably grades out better than Finley's did when Finley went in his prime.

    Last Friday in your online chat, someone asked whether Mariners righthander Juan Done is a prospect. What is his background that a questioner would ask this? I have gone through the past three BA Almanacs looking for him and only could find him in the 2002 book.

    Joe Hamilton
    Shoreline, Wash.

Done is a very interesting case. He signed out of high school with the White Sox as a 19th-round pick on June 9, 1999. He never appeared in a pro game before his contract was voided on Aug. 13 that year because he had a pre-existing arm injury. Though he was ineligible to play at a four-year college, Done retained his junior college eligibility and went to Broward (Fla.) CC.

Last spring, Done threw in the mid-90s which naturally attracted the attention of scouts. He would have been an early pick in the June draft, except for the fact that draft rules granted him free agency as soon as his juco career ended. He signed with the Mariners and posted a 5.93 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 27 innings between the Rookie-level Arizona League and the short-season Northwest League.

    We always hear general managers talk about how rosters are built 12 months a year and that after all the teams see what they have in spring training, you'll see more movement. They usually say this after their team has spent the winter not doing much of anything to improve. Has a study ever been done on when the highest percentage of deals are made? I think there are three peak times: Winter Meetings to mid-January; spring training; and the July trading deadline.

    Tom Bannon
    Pendleton, Ind.

Tom's guess as to the busiest times for trades is correct. As far as I could determine, there were 507 trades in 1998-2001, and here's how they broke down by month:

MonthTrades
July141
December75
March65
June53
August46
November33
May25
April24
January21
February13
September7
October4

July (before the end-of-month trading deadline), December (Winter Meetings) and March (final roster adjustments coming out of spring training) saw 55 percent of the trade action. The end of the regular season and the beginning of the year were the most dormant periods.

    Now that you have posted your list of top prospects for the 2002 draft, I was wondering if you had any info on Scott Boras' client list or other tough signs who may fall to the second round for those teams who have no first-round pick. I noticed that your profile of Jeff Baker indicates that he's advised by Boras.

    Sam Lynch
    Cambridge, Mass.

Boras is advising (wink, wink) six of the players on our Top 25 Prospects list for the 2002 draft: Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie (No. 1), North Carolina high school righty Jason Neighborgall (No. 6), Texas high school righty Mark McCormick (No. 7), Clemson third baseman Baker (No. 8), Kansas high school righty Mike Pelfrey (No. 13) and Stanford righty Jeremy Guthrie (No. 17).

That doesn't necessarily mean that any of these guys will drop to the second round, though that has happened to some Boras clients in the past, such as Xavier Nady in 2000. No. 9 prospect Jeff Francouer, a Georgia high school outfielder, is one of the top defensive back prospects in the nation and has committed to Clemson for football. That could cause him to slide out of the first round. Most of those situations don't become apparent until later in the spring, and we'll be sure to respond them.

February 12, 2002

Ask BA is getting a lot of questions about the 2002 draft and free-agent compensation. Thanks to BA webmaster Will Kimmey, we now have the 2002 draft order up on our site. Anticipating some questions, Will notes that a) sandwich picks are made in the same order in which teams draft in the first round; b) each team picks once before clubs with multiple sandwich picks go again; and c) sandwich picks for the failure to sign first-round picks come at the end of the round in all cases.

Several of your other questions can be answered by visiting our Frequently Asked Questions area. We also have the official free-agent rankings if you're looking for those as well. Remember, the player's former team has to offer him arbitration in order to receive any compensation.

    I know they're a long way off, but assuming they don't get traded (a rather large assumption), what do you think of a 2004 Red Sox rotation that includes Seung Song, Manny Delcarmen, Phil Dumatrait and either Rene Miniel or Brad Baker to go with Pedro Martinez? I hope Song makes it up this year after the all-star break.

    Bill Anderson
    West Roxbury, Mass.

The best that the Boston system has to offer is young pitching and plenty of it. While they sit near the bottom of the game in terms of minor league talent, at least the Red Sox can say that their best prospects, for the most part, have high ceilings and have had a fair amount of success. Besides the pitchers that Bill mentions, Boston also has hopes for guys such as righthanders Josh Thigpen, Anastacio Martinez, Mat Thompson and Kevin Huang, plus lefthander Mauricio Lara.

The big problem is that of all these guys, none has reached Double-A and only Song, Baker and Martinez have reached even high Class A. Delcarmen, Dumatrait, Thigpen and Huang haven't gotten to full-season ball yet. The rate of attrition among pitching prospects is high, and it rises as you go deeper into the minors. Of the 10 names we're discussing, the Red Sox probably will be lucky if two of them can pitch in the front half of a big league rotation, though all of them have that ceiling. And that's one reason why we rank the Boston system as low as we do.

There is a lot to like about Song, who finished second to Josh Beckett in the minors with a 1.90 ERA at age 21 last year. He throws in the low 90s and has very good command of three pitches. But he's at least 18-24 months away from being ready for Fenway Park.

    Before last year's draft, reports indicated that agent Scott Boras wouldn't accept any kind of deal from the Phillies because his client, Mark Teixeira, did not want to change positions. Now, reports out of Texas say that Teixeira almost certainly will move to first base or the outfield to accommodate the stellar play of Hank Blalock. Given the fact that the Phillies system lacks any kind of corner prospects and their plethora of young arms, why did the Phillies pass on Teixeira and take Gavin Floyd? Who's blowing smoke: the Phillies or Boras? Are the Phillies really that undesirable a team to get picked by? Is Boras really that greedy?

    Hunter D. Willis
    Columbus, Ohio

When it became clear that the Cubs were going to use the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft on Mark Prior, Boras warned both the Devil Rays (picking third) and the Phillies (picking fourth) not to take Teixeira. It didn't have anything to do with what position Teixeira wanted to play, and I don't recall hearing that mentioned. It had everything to do with Boras wanting Teixeira to go fifth to his favorite organization, the Rangers, and his favorite owner, Tom Hicks, who recently had bestowed a $252 million contract on Boras client Alex Rodriguez. Boras got his wish and Teixeira got a guaranteed $9.5 million from Texas.

The Phillies were unable to sign Boras client J.D. Drew after taking him second overall in 1997, and I think they just didn't want to risk coming up empty again. Floyd was the consensus best arm among a deep group of high school righthanders—though that's an extremely risky demographic to draft from. I don't know if I'd call Boras greedy. I think he was trying to extract top dollar for Teixeira, which is his job.

Teixeira probably isn't going to wind up in the outfield for the Rangers. If he stays at third base, Blalock likely would head to the outfield. If Blalock remains at the hot corner, Teixeira would wind up at first base, which has opened up after the Carlos Pena trade. That's the most likely scenario.

    One of the rumors of this off season is the possibility of Jin Pil-Jung being invited to Vero Beach to try out for the Dodgers. My question is this: Who is Jin Pil-Jung and what can you tell us about him?

    Robb Swanson
    Shasta Lake, Calif.

There's no official word that Jin will be in Dodgers camp this spring, but he's definitely on the radar of teams that scout Korea. Jin, 27, closed out the Korean Series clincher last season for the Doosan Bears. He also went 1-0, 10.13 in three appearances at the 2000 Olympics, where Korea finished fourth. Team USA's Doug Mientkiewicz hit a game-winning grand slam off Jin in the eighth inning of the round-robin competition. At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, he has an 88-93 mph fastball and an average slider. It sounds like he could help a major league club out of the bullpen, though that may not happen until 2003. And remember that the Red Sox thought they were going to get immediate help from Korean reliever Sang Lee when they signed him to a $3.35 million big league contract, and he turned out to be a bust.

    Is it me, or is it a little crazy that the Athletics are getting four first-round picks and three supplemental first-rounders in the 2002 draft? I know that six of the seven selections are compensation for the loss of free agents Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, but isn't that a little out of line? Certainly in this day and age, the game is first and foremost a business. In that light, shouldn't teams have to just suck it up and pay the price for not being able to re-sign players, as least to some degree? With the way the rules are and the inability of most teams to pay the big salaries, you would almost think that more teams would try to unload everything they could at one time or another with the idea of bringing new, low-priced talent in to rebuild. Am I off the mark?

    T.J. Cesarz
    Lake Worth, Fla.


    Everyone knows A's general manager Billy Beane is light years ahead of the curve, and looking at the recently published draft order for 2002 seems to add more proof. For losing Giambi, Damon and Isringhausen, Oakland now has seven of the top 39 picks in the June draft. I know it's early, but how well do you think they can rebuild their organization after trading away much of their depth this winter? Who will they be looking at with all those picks?

    Kurt Berger
    Wyandotte, Mich.


    The Athletics will have seven of the first 39 draft picks in June. Will Oakland be able to fork out the bonus money for all these picks, or can we expect the team to select a few affordable players who might otherwise go later in the draft?

    Michael Cogle
    Kirkland, Wash.

Whew. Lots of questions about Oakland's draft haul here, so let's get to them.

As for T.J., he's being a little harsh. The rules are the rules and the Athletics aren't the first team to grab a bunch of compensatory picks for the loss of free agents. If the owners and players ever sit down and negotiate a new Basic Agreement, we could see radical changes in the draft and these types of situations will disappear. But I'm sure that Beane would much rather be able to afford to keep Giambi, Damon and Isringhausen rather than lose them and get six draft picks.

Having that surplus will give Oakland a chance to restock its organization, but most of the teams who had that opportunity in the past squandered it. If Grady Fuson still was the A's scouting director, it would be easy to say that the club will focus on polished college players. But he's now the assistant GM in Texas, and it's unknown whether Eric Kubota, his successor, will take a similar approach. Oakland needs both hitting and pitching after trading away a lot of its prospect inventory in the past year, so it probably won't focus on a particular area.

One thing that seems certain is that the A's will have to look at signability. The seven players drafted in the 2001 slots that Oakland has this year got bonuses totaling $7.8 million. Factor in draft inflation of roughly 15 percent, and the A's could be looking at $9 million in bonuses before they get to the second round. They're going to have to do some predraft deals, so college seniors such as Wake Forest righthander David Bush, Harvard righthander Ben Crockett, Rice third baseman Hunter Brown, Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene, Tulane corner infielder James Jurries, Mississippi State righthander Tanner Brock and Long Beach State righthander Josh Alliston might be appealing.

February 8, 2002

As expected the Dodgers and Japanese lefthander Kazuhisa Ishii worked out an agreement before today's deadline. After paying $11.26 for the rights to negotiate with Ishii, Los Angeles gave him a four-year, $12.2 million contract that included a $1.5 million bonus, two option years worth about $6 million more and limited no-trade protection. I surprised some people in my BA chat this afternoon when I picked Ishii to beat out Josh Beckett for 2002 National League rookie of the year.

While I wouldn't hesitate to take the rest of Beckett's career over the rest of Ishii's, I do think Ishii will be better this season. Beckett will be 21 and has four games of major league experience. Ishii will be 28 and is an established big leaguer in Japan, having gone 78-46, 3.38 with 1,266 strikeouts in 1,173 innings over nine seasons. And I believe in the track record of Japanese big leaguers who have come over here.

I'll generalize a little here . . . Hideo Nomo was a big star in Japan and again in the United States when he arrived. So were Kazuhiro Sasaki and Ichiro. Most of the players who were solid players there were solid players here: Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Masato Yoshii (before he went to Coors Field) and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. True, Hideki Irabu obviously had some makeup issues, and Masao Kida did get cuffed around. And I'll admit I had forgotten about Takashi Kasiwada, though he was OK in his one year with the Mets.

All in all, I expect Ishii to win about 15 games and finish among the NL ERA leaders. Beckett may not win more than 10 games with a Marlins club that doesn't impress me much.

I've gotten several questions about players qualifying for our team prospect lists despite having significant amounts of big league service time. While anyone with more than 45 days of pre-Sept. 1 service time no longer is considered a rookie, it doesn't necessarily exile them from prospectdom. We only use the rookie limits of 130 at-bats and 50 innings in the majors.

    With the rise of on base plus slugging percentage as an overall measurement of hitting, I was wondering why I've never seen the statistic of OPS allowed for a pitcher. If it's an accurate gauge of hitting efficiency, shouldn't it be an accurate measure for pitchers, as well?

    Tim Stuart
    San Clemente, Calif.

I think the main reason we don't see OPS allowed for pitchers is that it's not readily available and there hasn't been much clamoring for it. But I totally believe in that stat, to the point where it's the main number I use for evaluating major league pitchers. (The data is much more difficult to find for minor leaguers.) When I worked at STATS, Inc., my colleague Mat Olkin determined that there's a close correlation between a pitcher's OPS and his ERA. Mat's formula was:

OBP x SLG x 31 = Predicted ERA

Further, he found that pitchers whose true ERA varied greatly from their predicted ERA almost always got back in line with their predicted ERA the following season. In other words, though a pitcher may have been helped/hurt by great defense or relief support (to name two factors) in a given year, there was no demonstrable ability that certain guys would pitch better or worse than their predicted ERA.

Here are last year's pitching OPS leaders (minimum 600 PA by opponents):

Randy Johnson.582
Kerry Wood.626
Freddy Garcia.627
Mike Mussina.633
Russ Ortiz.634
Mark Mulder.641
Javier Vazquez.646
Greg Maddux.647
John Burkett.648
Tim Hudson.651
Joe Mays.653
Barry Zito.653
Mark Buehrle.654
Brad Penny.657
Chan Ho Park.660
Jamie Moyer.670
Curt Schilling.674
Roger Clemens.683
Matt Morris.687
Terry Adams.688

These numbers aren't park adjusted, but I can't think that the pitchers who make up the top 20 in any other stat would be a better group than these guys. Pedro Martinez would have ranked first at .526 had he pitched enough to qualify.

    One outcome of the tragedies of Sept. 11 has been stricter immigration and border policies. In recent weeks, a couple of cases of age-altering have been exposed when Juan Cruz and Ramon Ortiz renewed their work visas. How will this affect baseball? Will or should players who have lied face some sanction or punishment? This isn't a new problem, but it may be exposed more often.

    Will Linthicum
    Taneytown, Md.

I addressed this issue in the last Ask BA. Cruz and Ortiz are probably just the first two of several players who will age a few years when they seek new visas. I don't think it's going to have much of an effect on baseball, though. The ages of Hispanic players often are questioned as soon as they arrive in the United States. Teams know it's difficult to document ages with 100 percent accuracy, though Major League Baseball has made efforts to do a better job in recent years.

I also don't see how or why these guys can be punished. A lot of these players come from impoverished situations and are seeking a better opportunity. It's hard to fault them for that, especially when teams realize it's going on. A guy like Ortiz may find that the Angels won't make him as lucrative a contract offer now that he's three years older, but that's about the extent of what a club can do. I can't imagine teams will seek to get bonus money back, not that many of these guys signed for much in the first place. And I doubt clubs will try to fine players, because I don't think that would hold up in the grievance process.

    How would you rate the Indians minor league pitching prospects with those in the American League Central? I know the White Sox' arms are probably the best, especially because they are closer to the majors. But I think Cleveland has really improved and if half of their prospects in the lower minors are successful as they move up, the Tribe could be close to Chicago's talent level. What do you think?

    Matt Zeiser
    Parma, Ohio

The pitching in the Indians system has been really bolstered in the last year, particularly by the 2001 draft (which included first-rounders Dan Denham and J.D. Martin), the emergence of Ryan Drese and Alex Herrera and the acquisition of Billy Traber in the Roberto Alomar trade. Brian Tallet, a 2000 second-rounder, also looks like he'll move quickly.

In the AL Central, I'd rank the pitching crops in this order: White Sox, Indians, Royals, Twins, Tigers. I'm not ready to put Cleveland in Chicago's class, however.

    Ive recently been reading about the Caribbean Series. I would be interested in learning about future series. Do you guys have a schedule of forthcoming series or do you know where I can get this information? Thanks in advance.

    Pete Murphy
    Madrid, Spain

The series rotates among (in order) Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Mexico every four years and usually starts in the first week of February. This year's Series was in Caracas, Venezuela. Next year's will be held in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The host cities haven't been determined for 2004 (Dominican) and 2005 (Mexico).

February 5, 2002

As mentioned last time, we're back to our regular Tuesday-Friday rotation of Ask BA. That means I can answer more of your questions, and it also means that the 2002 Prospect Handbook is done. Several people have emailed me to find out how they can order it. The easiest way is to click on that link above or call our Customer Service Department at 1-800-845-2726. It also should be available in most major bookstores.

Ramon Ortiz joins Juan Cruz in the club of diminutive Dominican righthanders compared to Pedro Martinez who are actually older than previously believed. We learned in January that Cruz is 23, not 21. As discussed in Ask BA, I don't believe that really affects his prospect status. He's not as young as we thought but he's still precocious.

Ortiz was born in 1973 and not 1976, and in his case I find myself much less impressed than I had been. Ortiz led the minor leagues in strikeouts in 1997 while pitching in the low Class A Midwest League. That was a nice feat when we thought he was 21, but uninspiring when we know that he was 24. For a guy with strong stuff, he doesn't miss many bats—which is much more troublesome for a guy who was 28 (and not 25) last season. We're going to learn about many more similar cases as players apply for new visas. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has more stringent requirements in place since the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Over the last three years, we've been treated to report after report of Hank Blalock's impending stardom. And justifiably so. How in the world did he make it to the third round of the draft? Obviously hindsight is easy, but he has done nothing but rip since being drafted. What were the scouts not seeing? I just don't get it. Thanks.

    Tod Northman
    Portland, Ore.

Going in the third round of the draft rather than the first is no knock on a player. But based on how Blalock has blossomed into the minors' best hitting prospect, it's surprising to look back and see that he was picked behind such first-rounders as Corey Myers, B.J. Garbe and Rick Asadoorian, all of whom have struggled mightily at the plate.

While I believe in performance as well as tools, I'm not going to be a stathead who rips scouts and acts omniscient. I've never understood how people who focus solely on numbers think they'd sign players as amateurs. By looking at their high school and college stats? That said, I do think one of the most common mistakes made in the draft is to downplay position players who can hit but aren't stunning athletes and don't project much in the way of non-batting skills.

That's what happened with Blalock. At 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, he wasn't tall and rangy, he wasn't a speedster and he definitely wasn't going to continue at shortstop, his high school position. But he came out of San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High, one of the best high school programs in the nation, and has remarkable gifts at the plate. Those have been evident since he dominated the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League shortly after signing. He's not a stud on the basepaths or at third base, though that's meaningless because of what he can do with a bat in his hands.

Yankees outfielder John-Ford Griffin's situation reminds me of Blalock's. Though Griffin did go 23rd overall in the 2001 draft, he was knocked down because his speed and arm are below average. In a couple of years, he'll be regarded as one of the top 5-10 players from the 2001 draft.

    In a previous edition of Ask BA, it was inferred that Kenny Kelly wouldn't be among the Mariners Top 10 Prospects. However, he was No. 9 on BA's Arizona Fall League list, ahead of several notable names, including Joe Borchard and J.R. House. It seemed like last year, finally playing full-time, Kelly was able to show that he's capable of some big things. What's the story? Is he for real or what?

    Pete Tredwell
    Bristol, Conn.

Kelly didn't make the Mariners Top 10, which is part of the issue we're working on right now. Subscribers should start to get it by the end of next week, and it will appear on the web around the same time. The main reason he didn't make the list, which I wrote, is that Seattle has so much talent in its system. I won't reveal the whole list here, but lefthander Matt Thornton claimed the 10th spot and relegated Kelly to No. 11. Of course, we'll have a full writeup on Kelly in the 2002 Prospect Handbook.

Kelly is the exact opposite of Blalock in that he's loaded with physical gifts that are ahead of his baseball skills. Though he was headed to the University of Miami to play quarterback, Kelly still went in the second round of the 1997 draft to the Devil Rays and juggled two sports for a while. He gave up football in February 2000, signing a four-year major league contract worth $2.2 million. He had a mediocre performance in Double-A that year, though it also could be argued that he wasn't nearly ready for that level. With the Devil Rays struggling last spring, they designated Kelly for assignment to get out of his contract. He was sold to the Mariners for $350,000, with Tampa Bay getting out of another $1.25 million it owed him.

Kelly continued to struggle in Double-A, hitting .223 for the first four months of last season. Then he batted .298-7-27 the rest of the way and hit .351-7-21 in the Arizona Fall League. The Mariners think he just needed time to make adjustments to his swing and get acclimated to baseball. Because he only has kicked it into gear for a couple of months, I was conservative with where I ranked him in a loaded organization.

    I'm interested to see what you think about Jason Middlebrook. I don't see him listed as a top prospect yet he got a chance to make some starts in the majors last year. Everyone is talking about Dennis Tankersley, Jacob Peavy and Eric Cyr, but it seems to me that Middlebrook is another good young starter who should get a look, especially after everything that he has overcome.

    John Hach
    Kalamazoo, Mich.

I also did our Padres ratings, and Middlebrook like Kelly was a victim of being in a quality organization. I ranked him 13th on San Diego's Top 30, but he easily could have been a Top 10 guy in several organizations. At one point he looked like he'd be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, but repeated elbow problems knocked him down until the ninth round. He had problems staying healthy as a pro until last year, when he threw 91-94 mph all season and also showed a plus curveball. I like him, though he's 26 now and isn't in the same class as Tankersley, Peavy and Cyr. The key for Middlebrook is pitching rather than trying to throw his fastball by hitters, a lesson Barry Bonds drove home when he homered three times in five days against Middlebrook last September.

    What was the extent of Jon Rauch's surgery last year? I have heard wide-ranging reports that it was relatively minor, from he could have pitched in 2001 and had surgery in the offseason, to that it was a torn labrum. That he'll be ready for spring training and is expected to have no long-term effects makes me think the former is true.

    Tim Mavor
    Waldorf, Md.

Tim's right, in that the reports on Rauch's shoulder surgery have run the gamut. I called the White Sox and talked to both their minor league and public-relations departments, who both described the procedure performed by Dr. James Andrews as repair of his rotator cuff and labrum. He had a hook-like growth removed from his shoulder, a fairly minor procedure that Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry and Sean Lowe had in the past and returned quickly from. It was more of a cleaning out than fixing any severe tears. With an arm like Rauch's, the White Sox weren't going to take any chances and have him try to pitch through his shoulder problems.

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