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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

May 31, 2002

I answered several draft questions in today's draft chat, and we'll get to three more in a second. Just two quick announcements first.

Our draft coverage isn't slackening as the draft draws nearer. Josh Boyd will have an info-packed Draft Notebook that will go up on our website Saturday, and Monday morning I'll have a revised projection for the first round of what promises to be a very fluid draft when it kicks off the next day.

Because the draft begins Tuesday, I'm going to push Ask BA back a day next week to Wednesday, so you'll have time to get in questions on what actually happened. Now on to today's installment . . .

    What can you tell us about Mater Dei High's Sergio Santos? Is he first-round material?

    Jason Connatser
    Morristown, Tenn.

I was talking to a scouting director a couple of days ago who said that he can't figure out why more teams aren't all over Santos as a first-round pick. The scouting director really likes him but picks too early to spend his first-rounder on Santos.

Santos looked like a top-10 pick coming into the year but has fallen off somewhat. He's going to have to move from shortstop at third base. As a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, he has the size to produce the power needed for the hot corner, but he hasn't driven the ball with much consistency. He has average speed and a strong arm.

There was some talk that Cleveland might take Santos at No. 22, but the Indians appear to be looking in a different direction at this point. Santos now figures to go as a sandwich pick or in the early second round. He gave some clubs the impression earlier this year that he wanted big money, but now it's believed he'll sign for slot money if he doesn't drop too far in the draft.

    There has been a lot of talk that the Giants will overdraft a catcher with the 25th pick in the draft. Are Chris Snyder and Tyler Parker the only options if the Giants do select a catcher, or would they consider taking Jeff Clement? Also, does the Giants' draft-and-follow signing of Dayton Buller make the need for a catcher any less pressing?

    Matt Squeri
    San Francisco

Buller is a polished defensive catcher and was a nice draft-and-follow sign out of Fresno CC, but I don't think he alone solves San Francisco's lack of catching depth. We've heard some talk that they could take a catcher in the first round, though I think they're more likely to take a righthander from Nevada, either Bishop Manogue High's Kevin Jepsen or the University of Nevada's Darrell Rasner.

There's no consensus on whom the top catching prospect is in this year's draft. Houston's Snyder offers the best combination of offensive and defensive performance, though there's some concern that his swing is too long. He probably will be the first catcher drafted. Georgia Tech's Parker has the best overall tools, but never has matched his 2000 Cape Cod League performance. Marshalltown (Iowa) High's Clement is the best hitter but isn't a sure thing behind the plate. Duluth (Ga.) High's Brian McCann is a solid all-around catcher, while Timber Creek (Orlando) High's Adam Donachie has good catch-and-throw skills.

Those should be the top five catchers picked in the draft. None are true first-round picks on merit, but position scarcity may push them all up a round or two earlier than they should go.

    I was wondering about the possible draft position of 1999 highly rated prospect Ryan Gloger, who supposedly scared scouts away back then by committing to Stanford. Despite an off year at South Florida, where do you see him going?

    John Fernandez
    Tampa

If he hadn't been headed to Stanford, Gloger might have been a first-rounder in 1999. Coming out of Jesuit High in Tampa—the same school that produced Brad Radke and first-round picks Geoff Goetz, Sam Marsonek and Nick Stocks—Gloger was considered in the same class as fellow Florida high school pitchers Brett Myers and Bobby Bradley.

The hometown Devil Rays took a flier on Gloger in the eighth round but were unable to sway him from the Cardinals, Ever since, Gloger has been a puzzle. He rarely pitched in two years at Stanford but pitched well after each of those seasons in the Cape Cod League. He only threw 83-86 mph last summer on the Cape, then transferred to South Florida and looked pretty good in the fall, reaching 89-91 mph. He looked totally different this spring, with poor mechanics, a mid-80s fastball and no secondary pitches.

Heading into the NCAA regionals, Gloger carried a 5-4, 5.91 record in 14 starts, with a horrid 32-37 strikeout-walk ratio in 56 innings. If he goes in the first 10 rounds, it will be based on the glimpses he has shown in the past rather than what he has done this year.

May 28, 2002

Canadian high school lefthander Adam Loewen is starting to gain on Ball State righthander Bryan Bullington as the Pirates' target with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which begins on Tuesday. Bullington struggled in the Mid-American Conference tournament, giving up six runs in the first inning and posting a 5-8-7-6-0-7 line against Kent State. Meanwhile, Loewen threw great on Saturday, hitting 91-94 mph with his fastball and showing a very nifty curveball. Virginia high school shortstop B.J. Upton is still in the mix as well.

If you haven't seen it already, check out the latest update on Matt Harrington. The Padres have ended their efforts to sign Harrington, whose saga is by now quite familiar to BA readers, so I won't get into it here. I can't believe he turned down a $1.2 million package that included a major league contract. He declined a $4 million offer from the Rockies as a first-rounder in 2000, and it's beyond me how much he thinks he'll get in 2002, or where he'll even go in the draft.

Also see the latest additions to our ever-growing list of age discrepancies. The Mariners' Ruben Castillo, Freddy Garcia and Gustavo Martinez are now included, thanks to a report by Bob Sherwin in Sunday's Seattle Times. Sherwin also reports that second baseman Pedro Liriano is stuck in the Dominican Republic because his age can't be verified to the satisfaction of local officials.

Now let's dive into some more draft-related Ask BA questions. I've been bombarded with a bunch of queries from the Southeast, so that's where we'll head today.

    I was wondering about where Jeff Francoeur is projected to be picked. I heard before that he was a definite top 10 pick, but lately it seems like his stock is dropping for some reason.

    Sean Kelly
    Atlanta

A high school all-America defensive back with a football scholarship to Clemson, Francouer is one of the best athletes in the 2002 draft. He's 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, his speed grades a 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, and his bat speed and raw power are plus tools. But as one scouting director with a high pick told me, for all his tools baseball just doesn't come very easily for Francouer. Scouts aren't enamored of his spread-out, no-stride stance and worry that he struggles so much against breaking pitches. He'll probably go in the second half of the first round, and with the Braves being all over Georgia products, Francouer would be a natural to go to them at No. 23 overall.

    What's the deal with Cecil Fielder's son Prince? Does he have any problems with his weight, and do you think the Tigers will/should take him, even with all their first basemen?

    Kyle Hearn
    Howell, Mich.

Prince Fielder's weight is a huge concern to scouts. The Florida high school first baseman has packed 300 pounds on his 6-foot frame, though Cecil hired a personal trainer who got him down to 250. But Prince is shorter and thicker than Cecil was at the same age, and Cecil ballooned toward the end of his career. No one is sure what Prince will weigh when he's 25, and he already looks like a DH-in-the-making. Some scouts say that he's agile for his size, while others say that's overblown and he doesn't move well.

Fielder's big tool is his power. He and fellow Florida high schooler Brian Dopirak have more pop than anyone in the draft, and Prince's advantages over Dopirak are that he hits lefthanded and has a better approach at the plate. Personally, I'd be scared of his weight and wouldn't take him at No. 8 if I were running the Tigers. But Frank Thomas had a similar profile (though he was in better shape) when the White Sox took him seventh overall in 1989. Chicago was widely ridiculed for that pick, but it worked out pretty well.

If I was in charge of Detroit's draft, based on whom we think would be available when the eighth pick came up (see Allan Simpson's mock first round), I'd be more tempted by three California high schoolers: shortstop (and future third baseman) Scott Moore, and righthanders Cole Hamels and Chris Gruler. We're starting to hear that the Brewers likely will take one of those three, and the Tigers very well could take one of the players that Milwaukee bypasses.

    Khalil Greene might possibly be the best all-around college baseball player in the country. He has put up some tremendous numbers while playing in the toughest conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference. Where do you see him going in the draft and will he be moved to second base or stay at shortstop at the next level?

    Tim Reppenhagen
    Key West, Fla.

We haven't made any official decisions yet, but Khalil Greene has to be our College Player of the Year. Doesn't he? He's batting .475-22-75 with a 1.414 on-base plus slugging percentage for a Clemson team that was ranked No. 1 for much of the regular season. He's fielding .964 at shortstop, a remarkable percentage for college baseball. Oh, and he's riding a 27-game hitting streak. He has learned to extend his arms at the plate, which has helped him to drive the ball.

After turning down the Cubs as a 14th-round pick last year, Greene now figures to be gone before the second round begins. The most likely destination is to the Athletics as one of their four sandwich picks. The consensus is that he'll be an offensive second baseman as a pro, but he'll get a chance to play shortstop and there are a number of observers who think he can get the job done there. While he may lack pure shortstop range, he has good actions and an accurate arm. The biggest concern would be whether he could make the play in the hole at the major league level.

    How do you think Dave Bush's decision to come back for his senior year will pay of for him in terms of the draft? He is arguably the best closer/reliever in college baseball and a huge asset to an already amazing Wake Forest team. As a senior, his bargaining power isn't what it would be as a junior, but I would think that teams would be stupid not to try and snatch up this major talent. What do you think?

    Todd Achilles
    Winston-Salem, N.C.

I think Bush, like Greene, is going to go in the late first round or the sandwich area. He won't have as much leverage, but he should get close to slot money. He's a reliever who should rush through the minors, and I think he fits with a team like the Cubs, who have several extra picks and holes in their big league bullpen. Bush went in the fourth round to the Devil Rays in 2001, but negotiations fizzled after both sides got disenchanted with the other.

While Greene is the likely Player of the Year, Bush might be the College MVP if we had such an award. He takes the ball whenever needed, whether it's a save situation, tie game or even a close game late, and generally stays on the mound until the Demon Deacons pull out the victory. He lost weight and velocity when he went down with a blood clot in his leg at the beginning of 2002, but he still went 7-1, 1.69 with 13 saves and a 53-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 53 innings.

If scouts have a worry, it's that his fastball didn't always have the 91-94 mph zip it had a year ago, but he should be fine as he puts more distance between him and the blood clot. He was the top pitching prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer.

May 25, 2002

Ask BA is once again a day late, but that won't happen again as the Draft Preview issue finally has been put to bed. In case you haven't checked it out, we've been offering a daily dose of draft information for the last two weeks, and we'll continue to do so for another two weeks. Most of this information is available only to subscribers, but remember: If you get the magazine, you also get all of our online coverage for free. Or you can buy a web-only subscription for $36.

We're getting flooded with a bunch of questions about specific players, from potential first-rounders to the more obscure. Today we'll deal with some of those. Most of the responses are straight from the Draft Preview.

If you can't get enough of this type of information, you've come to the right place. We have detailed evaluations of more than 200 prospects, and provide quick impressions on another 500.

    We all know about Bryan Bullington, but what about his lefthanded counterpart at Ball State, Luke Hagerty? After a disappointing first few seasons, Luke has steadily improved and really come on this season. What teams have shown interest and what are your overall thoughts on him?

    Sean Lynn
    Dayton, Ohio

Hagerty is near the top of the second tier of college pitchers, which means he should go in the middle of the first round. The highest he probably would go would be No. 9 to the Rockies, and I don't see him getting past the second Athletics pick at No. 24. The Mets (No. 15), White Sox (No. 18) and Indians (No. 22) are three more possibilities. Here's Allan Simpson's scouting report on Hagerty from the Draft Preview:

Hagerty was nothing more than a projection during his first two years at Ball State. He pitched sparingly, but emerged from relative obscurity last summer in the Central Illinois Collegiate League. He has added 10 mph to his fastball and 30 pounds to his imposing 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame since he was recruited out of high school. His fastball registered up to 93-94 mph last summer, but he has consistently worked in the 88-92 range with good running movement this spring. Because Hagerty threw just 41 innings as a freshman and sophomore, he started to tire as a junior, causing him to get on the side of his breaking ball. When he's on, it's a hard, sharp breaker, but it has lost some of its bite down the stretch. Still, there's the projection scouts love—his father is 6-foot-9—and his arm comes with limited mileage. Hagerty ranked second to Bullington in ERA in the Mid-American Conference during the regular season at 2.27 while striking out 81 in 71 innings.

    I have not read much in the last few weeks about the high school slugger from Iowa, Jeff Clement. What are your thoughts on teams looking at Jeff and where he may go in the draft?

    Rudy Guerra
    Des Moines

Clement projects as a possible sandwich pick and could make sense for both the Cubs and Athletics, who have multiple supplemental choices and not much catching depth. Here's my report from the Draft Preview:

Clement is on the verge of making history. He can break Drew Henson's national career high school record for homers if he plays Iowa's summer season, and he could become the state's first high school player ever to go in the first round. He didn't help himself with a poor showing at the Perfect Game predraft showcase in mid-May. He excelled the previous week in front of several scouts, so he probably didn't do too much damage to his chances. He has a quick bat that gives him plus-plus power from the left side of the plate. He has a solid approach, though his pop has been inconsistent as he has hit with wood bats this spring. An adequate catcher with decent arm strength, Clement will have to work to stay behind the plate. Plans B and C would be third base and first base, and he has the power required for either position.

    What's the scoop on Elijah Dukes out of Hillsborough High in Tampa? He has signed to play college football, I believe. Is he a high draft pick and if so is he signable?

    Jack Kilbride
    Tampa

Dukes should go in the second or third round and isn't considered a tough sign. Here's my report from the Draft Preview:

Tampa's Hillsborough High has produced first-round picks such as Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield, but none was in Dukes' class as an athlete. One of the nation's top high school linebackers, Dukes also starred at running back and has signed to play football at North Carolina State. He's a physical specimen at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and his combination of size and speed has evoked comparisons to Bo Jackson. He offers plenty of power and speed (4.0 seconds from the right side of the plate to first base) as a corner outfielder, and he's more polished than similar athletes often are. He also has a strong arm and would be a candidate for pitching if not for his offensive potential. Dukes has played at four high schools in four years, and off-field problems scared off some of the nation's better college football programs.

    I was just wondering why Kiki Bengochea of Miami is listed so high as a draft prospect. I have watched him off and on for several years and don't consider him a good prospect at all. He never does well against good teams. I think it's all hype. He only pitches against teams that are lower in status, and doesn't seem to have any special pitches. He doesn't overpower batters, and his team has several better pitchers than him not on the list. What's your opinion of him?

    Marilyn Norris
    West Palm Beach, Fla.

Bengochea certainly hasn't had a good year and won't be the first-round pick he projected to be before the season. He still should be the first Hurricanes player taken in June. Here's my report from the Draft Preview:

Miami may miss out on the NCAA playoffs for the first time in 30 years, right on the heels of winning two of the last three College World Series. Part of the Hurricanes' problem was that Bengochea, a projected first-round pick at the beginning of the year, got off to a horrid start that prompted his removal from the weekend rotation. After posting a 0.92 ERA last summer for Team USA, he lost his velocity and command and got hammered. He has pitched better as of late, lowering his ERA to 5.58. His sinker is back to 88-92 mph, his slider is again reliable and he's getting ahead of hitters. Still, his performance, lack of a dominant pitch and choice of advisers (Scott Boras) could cause him to slide past the third round, the spot where the Royals drafted him out of high school.

    My question is about a huge lefty that you guys did a story on before the college season, Brett Nyquist. If my memory serves me correctly he's a big 6-foot-7 lefthander who throws in the low to mid-90s for St. Scholastica (Minn.), an NAIA school. How has his season been? Knowing that scouts love big lefties, where will he land?

    Mike Mayer
    Woodbridge, Va.

Nyquist had a solid season, though I can't find his statistics anywhere on the Internet. Reports of his velocity vary depending on the source, but he should go somewhere in the first five rounds. Here's my report from the Draft Preview:

A 6-foot-8, 210-pound lefthander, Nyquist threw in the 70s as a high schooler. Since coming to St. Scholastica, his velocity has jumped and he has become a legitimate prospect. How much depends on whom you ask. The NAIA school's radar gun has clocked him in the low 90s, but a scout who saw Nyquist at least five times says the school's gun isn't right. The scout never saw Nyquist top 89 mph, and he usually worked at 85-87 after a couple of innings. He's not athletic, so he doesn't repeat his delivery or command his pitches consistently. His changeup may be his best pitch and he has the makings of a decent curveball. Nyquist would be better off paring down his repertoire by scrapping his slider and split-finger. He dropped his arm slot too low this spring, affecting his velocity, the sharpness of his curve and his control. In his defense, Nyquist has had few chances to show his stuff in good weather or against quality competition.

    I was wondering where you saw Sean Barker going in this year's draft. If it isn't him, who's going to be Louisiana State's highest pick this year?

    Matthew Wages
    Montgomery, Ala.

Barker will be the Tigers' top draft pick in June, going somewhere in the first five rounds. Here's my report from the Draft Preview:

Barker turned down $50,000 as 46th-round pick of the Blue Jays last year and is in line for a bigger bonus in 2002. He's a potential five-tool player with a pro body (6-foot-3, 225 pounds). He ran a 6.45-second 60-yard dash on a track, and he has arm strength to go with this speed, making him a tremendous right fielder. The Bakersfield (Calif.) JC product has hit for average but has shown much more power in batting practice than in games. If he can produce offensively, he'll play in the major leagues.

    What do you know about Amarillo Randall High righthander Chance Douglass? His fastball has been clocked at 94 mph, and he has hit 20-plus homers his high school team. Is he a first- or second-round pick? I know high school pitchers are a crapshoot, but he seems to have the tools.

    Tommy de Jesus
    Amarillo, Texas

Douglass made our Top 70 list of Texas prospects, checking in at No. 26. I doubt that he'll go in the first two rounds, and he's difficult to peg, because he's committed to Rice and the Owls don't lose many recruits. Here's my report from the Draft Preview:

Douglass has a Ben Sheets-like body (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and threw very well at the Area Code Games. He's had a shoulder problem this spring, so his velocity has fluctuated from 84 to 94 mph. He doesn't have much of a breaking ball, and he'll be tough to sign away from Rice.

    Why haven't I heard much hype about South Carolina first baseman Yaron Peters yet this year with the draft coming up? I've seen the offensive numbers he has put up this year and they are just outstanding. What's the deal? Is it because he didn't play much last year? Also, it's nice to see Florida shortstop Mark Kiger in the race for College Player of the Year. Where do you see him in the draft?

    Bryan Metzler
    San Diego

Kiger probably will go in the fifth to seventh round, and Peters likely will be picked after him. Here are my reports from the Draft Preview:

Beyond Drew Meyer, the Gamecocks' next pick could be Peters, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. A fifth-year senior, Peters will be able to sign as a free agent before the draft unless South Carolina goes deep into the postseason. He has big power and a big swing, but he might be more of a mistake hitter than a true masher.

Kiger is one of the more versatile players in the draft. He has tremendous baseball aptitude and can help a team anywhere on the diamond except for pitcher, catcher and first base.

May 22, 2002

I'm immersed in our Draft Preview issue, so that's why Ask BA is regrettably a day late. Let's just dive right into the questions.

    Where do you see Bryan Bullington fitting in as a major league pitcher? Is he a No. 1 starter down the road? Also, Pittsburgh's fourth-round pick last year was Jeff Keppinger. Do you see him making it to The Show? I liked him at Georgia and think he has good offensive potential.

    Jim Shaffer
    Masontown, W.Va.

That depends somewhat on whether you mean a true No. 1 starter, or simply the ace of the team which drafts him. I think the latter is a no-brainer—the Pirates look like they'll take Bullington No. 1—and he definitely has the ingredients to fit the classic definition. He has the stuff: a lively 92-94 mph that reaches 96 and a hard slider, though he'll have to refine a changeup. His command, makeup and size (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) are assets as well, and Bullington should shoot through the minors fairly quickly.

Keppinger, a Georgia shortstop, homered off Mark Prior at the College World Series as part of a sensational postseason run in which he went deep nine times in 10 games. He signed too late to play last summer and has moved to second base at low Class A Hickory this year. Keppinger projects as an offensive infielder with some pop and good plate discipline, which is something Pittsburgh really could use. He's hitting .259-7-29 with 13 walks and eight strikeouts in 158 at-bats, and he has made just three errors in 34 games at his new position.

    I know that the selections of the top picks often are based more on signability then actual talent, but who do you think are the five most talented players available in the 2002 draft? Also, is Bobby Brownlie really not going to be drafted in the top 10 picks?

    Ryan McTague
    North Andover, Mass.

We'll give you a quick taste of our Top 100 Prospects list, which is based purely on talent. The complete list will be available to subscribers on the web on Saturday (we'll actually go 250 deep, compared to 100 in the issue). Anyway, here's how we've lined up the first five players:

1. B.J. Upton, ss, HS/Virginia
2. Scott Kazmir, lhp, HS/Texas
3. Bryan Bullington, rhp, Ball State
4. Adam Loewen, lhp, HS/British Columbia
5. Jason Neighborgall, rhp, HS/North Carolina

Teams will try to control costs and hold draft picks to slot money this year, just like in the recent past, but I don't think there will be too many guys who slide solely because of signability. The teams at the top, starting with the Pirates and Devil Rays, may do creative deals to spread out signing bonuses over a few years, but they apparently won't take a lesser player to cut down on expenses.

Brownlie is a wild card right now because he hasn't dominated like he's capable since early March, and several teams are worried that he might be affected by something more serious than biceps tendinitis, which is the official story at this point. There's talk that he might have shoulder trouble, though no one knows for sure. Brownlie didn't pitch well in his last start against St. John's on Saturday, as his stuff was down and he took the loss with a 5-9-6-6-2-3 line. He'll pitch again tomorrow against Notre Dame in the first round of the Big East Conference tournament, and there will be several scouts on hand. If the health issues are resolved before the draft, Brownlie could go as high as the fifth pick to the Expos and probably wouldn't get past the 10th pick with the Rangers. If there's uncertainty, he could drop out of the top 10.

    I'm looking at the draft and hearing a lot about how weak a draft class it is. But from the perspective of a Giants fan, it doesn't look that different. Sure, there isn't any Mark Prior this year and the top 10 isn't very well defined, but what's that mean to any team that isn't picking in the first half? Is the draft class really weak or is it just light at the top?

    Dave Alan
    Santa Rosa, Calif.

Dave is right on. This draft lacks a Mark Prior, Mark Teixeira or Joe Mauer at the top but the depth isn't bad. Tampa Bay scouting director Dan Jennings told me last week: "This is a good draft depth-wise. I don't think there's a single person who has separated himself from the group at the top, but it has good depth. Except for college position players, which is bad."

Teams picking toward the bottom of the draft, such as the Giants at No. 25, could get value similar to some of the clubs who get to choose near the top. While last year's draft had Prior as an anchor and more clearly defined top-five picks, it couldn't match 2002 in some regards. There wasn't a shortstop with a ceiling that could approach B.J. Upton's. And while high school pitchers are always risky, it's hard not to marvel at the sheer stuff of righthander Jason Neighborgall or be impressed by a deep group of lefthanders led by Scott Kazmir, Adam Loewen and Cole Hamels.

    Is it possible for the Braves to draft Auburn third baseman Jonathan Schuerholz (their GM's son) again? I thought I read once that when a player is drafted and doesn't sign, he can't be drafted by that team again. Is this true and is he enough of a prospect that I should be concerned?

    C.B. Wilkins
    Charlotte, N.C.

A player has to give a team permission to draft him a second time, but that almost always happens unless negotiations were acrimonious. For example, I don't suspect Wake Forest closer Dave Bush is going to let the Devil Rays take him again. But Schuerholz, who was taken out of high school in the 37th round by the Braves, isn't going to tell his dad's team to stay away.

In fact, we hear that the Braves are in harder on Schuerholz than any club and may take him in the first 10 rounds. Other teams see Schuerholz as more of a senior sign for 2003, but he's an overachiever with good speed and leadership skills.

May 17, 2002

This 2002 draft is so fluid that every time I mention something about it in Ask BA, it seems I have to come back and update it the next time. On Tuesday, I answered a question about Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie, saying that he projected to go in the first five or 10 picks. Since then, several scouting directors have told me that his arm problems may not be as mild as biceps tendinitis. There's some thought that he could have some loosening in his shoulder, and teams are flocking to see his start Saturday at St. John's. If he doesn't pitch well and/or his health status isn't resolved, Brownlie could fall further down the first round.

In case you missed it, I addressed Brownlie and several other draft-related issues in an afternoon chat. Among the highlights was my revised best guess for the first 10 picks, starting off with Ball State righthander Bryan Bullington going No. 1 to the Pirates.

We'll get to some more draft questions in Ask BA. First, we need to give a quick thanks to Kevin Anstrom of Durham, N.C., who discovered eight more age discrepancies for our ever-popular Happy Birthday! chart.

    I went to a predraft showcase in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday and saw an impressive prospect in Romelio Lopez from Sugar Land, Texas. He threw consistently threw 88-91 from the hill and was even more impressive at the plate. Have you heard anything about this kid and where do you expect him to fall in the draft?

    Brian Imhoff
    Iowa City

Lopez has one of the more interesting backgrounds in the 2002 draft. He's got a huge body (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) and a huge fastball (he has been seen as high as 97 mph). But he hasn't gotten a whole lot of exposure, because he couldn't pitch for Conroe High this spring until one of his parents arrived from Venezuela. Lopez moved to Texas last summer and reportedly turned down $800,000 to sign out of Venezuela two years earlier. That just doesn't add up. There's also some question as to his age, with suspicions that he's not really the age of a typical high school senior.

Some teams like Lopez as a hitter, though he'll likely be drafted as pitcher, with a couple of clubs considering him as early as a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. Most teams peg him to go somewhere from the second to fourth round.

    After a dominating performance in the Cape Cod League this past summer, Miami (Ohio) lefthander Chris Leonard entered the season amongst the upper echelon of college pitchers. He hasn't performed too well this season and apparently has been nursing an arm injury. Where did he project draft-wise coming into the season, and where should he expect to go now? Is anyone else on Miami's team going to get drafted this year?

    Markus Videnieks
    Washington, D.C.

After being named Cape Cod League pitcher of the year and leading the premier summer circuit in wins and ERA last summer, Leonard projected as a late first-round pick, reminding scouts of a Jimmy Key or Denny Neagle. Even last summer, he wasn't as much overpowering as he was crafty and precise with three solid average pitches. Despite a mediocre junior season that has seen him go 2-4, 4.85 in 11 starts with 61 strikeouts in 65 innings, he still figured to go in the second or third round. That's what pitching well on the Cape will do for someone, especially when he's a lefty and it's a dismal year for college position players. In fairness, he has been bothered by a split nail on the index finger of his pitching hand.

But Leonard left his start against Akron last Friday after five innings because of soreness in his left forearm, and he will be shut down this weekend when the RedHawks face Kent State. Miami should make the Mid-American Conference tournament, and Leonard may need a solid playoff start to dispel any physical concerns and solidify his draft status.

As for the rest of the RedHawks, their leading hitter, Mike Galloway (.437-14-61), should be their second player drafted. Galloway, a transfer from Central Michigan, is a Canadian who could be targeted by the Blue Jays, perhaps between the eighth and 12th rounds. He has been doing some catching, but projects more as a first baseman at the pro level.

    What have you heard about Grand Canyon righthander Klent Corley? He's a draft-eligible sophomore who transferred from Arizona. I've seen scouts' radar guns clocking him routinely in the 91-94 mph range, and he has touched 96 mph. Where does he project in the June draft? How about senior righthander David Brockman, another Arizona transfer at Grand Canyon?

    Jeff Lane
    Phoenix

Corley will be one of the first college players drafted out of the state of Arizona, probably in the fifth or sixth round. A redshirt sophomore, his best attributes are his fastball, his ability to keep the ball down in the strike zone and his size (6-foot-5, 215 pounds). He spent two years with the Wildcats but was dogged by injuries during his stay in Tucson.

Corley went 7-6, 4.57 with 90 strikeouts in 81 innings. He got shelled in his final outing in an opening-round loss to Chico State in the NCAA Division II West Regional. He gave up nine runs over four innings in a 20-4 blowout. Brockman was the top winner for the Antelopes, going 10-2, 4.01 with an excellent 77-11 strikeout-walk ratio in 92 frames. He should be a decent senior sign for someone later in the draft, though he too had a less-than-memorable finale, surrendering 10 runs in 2.2 innings in a 15-8 loss to Cal State San Bernardino in the California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.

May 14, 2002

Does anyone really take the now-retired Jose Canseco seriously as a Hall of Fame candidate? I don't see it, though it has been a repeated topic on ESPN Radio this morning and afternoon. He has some impressive raw numbers (462 homers and 1,407 RBIs), awards (1986 American League Rookie of the Year, 1988 MVP) and was baseball's first-ever 40-40 player in 1988. From 1988-91, he was arguably the best player in the AL.

However, he just wasn't great enough long enough. His career totals are impressive, but watered down somewhat by the era in which he played. He was done as an outfielder at age 28. But what ultimately will keep him out of Cooperstown were his injuries. Canseco played 150 games in a season just five times, averaging .261-39-117 with 25 steals during those years. Had he been able to stay healthy, Canseco could have hit 600 homers and driven in 1,800 or more runs. He didn't, and seemed to be more concerned with style than substance.

A couple of follow-ups from last time: Roch Kubatko, our Orioles correspondent, reports that Orioles lefthander Chris Smith was sent to extended spring training as a precaution, because he came down with a stiff shoulder after signing as a first-round pick last summer. And righthander Colt Griffin, the Royals' 2001 first-rounder, has graduated from extended spring to low Class A Burlington, where the line from his first start was 4.2-5-3-3-4-5 and the velocity on his fastball ranged from 90-95 mph.

    As a student at Rutgers, I was wondering about the draft status of Bobby Brownlie. He was rated the best overall player in the draft coming into the year, but because of some injuries he has had somewhat of a subpar year. Does he now fall into the middle of the first round? What does his peak major league role project to be? And I'm not sure how common this is baseball, or if it is allowed or not, but is it possible that some team will trade up to get him if he does fall?

    Vishal Desai
    Teaneck, N.J.

I'll get the easiest part of the question out of the way first. Trading of draft picks isn't allowed, so that's not a possibility.

Brownlie was his usual self at the beginning of the year, pitching as well as he had for Rutgers, the Cape Cod League's Falmouth Commodores and Team USA in the past. He hasn't been overwhelming since late March, and he came down with biceps tendinitis and missed a couple of starts.

His velocity has been down to 88-93 after he opened the season in the mid-90s, and his curveball and changeup haven't been as sharp. Overall, he's having a decent year at 6-4, 2.58 with 60 strikeouts in 70 innings, but he hasn't dominated as scouts had hoped. Coming into the year, there were mild concerns about his size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds)—though the Roy Oswalts of the world are proving that size is overrated—and the fact that he didn't have excessive movement or command with his fastball, which gets hit more than the radar-gun readings indicate it should.

Brownlie could blossom into a true No. 1 starter in the major leagues, but it's more realistic that he'll fill a No. 2 or 3 role. (That should serve as a reminder as to how we need to temper our expectations for the draft. All of the first-round picks seem like they have limitless potential, but the reality is that very few of them will become frontline players.) He's no longer in the mix for the top overall selection, which is held by the Pirates, but he should go in the first five or 10 picks. The only reason he would slide precipitously would be if teams had huge signability concerns, which is a possibility because he's being advised by Scott Boras.

    For once, it appears the Indians' strength is pitching. In this year's draft, do you think they'll go after a position player, especially a middle infielder like Russ Adams or Drew Meyer if they last that long? Omar Vizquel can't play forever and Ricky Gutierrez is not the long-term answer at second.

    Nick Lucca
    Ambler, Pa.

The Indians have a lot of extra picks to play with this year: supplemental first-rounders for the loss of free agent Juan Gonzalez and their failure to sign 2001 first-round pick Alan Horne; a supplemental second-rounder for the loss of free agent Marty Cordova; and the Rangers' third-rounder as additional compensation for Gonzalez. In his two productive years as Cleveland's scouting director, John Mirabelli has had 11 picks in the first three rounds, taking eight pitchers and three hitters, and also nine high schoolers versus two collegians.

The 2002 draft is stronger in high school players as opposed to college prospects, and also in arms as opposed to bats, so I wouldn't expect Mirabelli to change his modus operandi in the early rounds. It's hard to project with great certainty who will be available when the Indians start off their draft with the 22nd overall pick, but I could see them taking a high school arm such as James Loney or Mark McCormick from Texas or Kevin Jepsen from Nevada.

BA's chief draft guru, Allan Simpson, has been hearing that South Carolina's Meyer projects as a sandwich pick. Based on the people I've talked to, as well as the utter lack of quality middle infielders in this year's draft, I'm not so sure that Meyer won't be gone by the time Cleveland's second pick comes up at No. 33. If he's available, he could make a lot of sense for the Tribe. Though Meyer has had a big junior season, he hasn't hit very well with wood bats in the Cape Cod League and there's still divided opinion on how much he'll hit as a pro. He has better tools and is more of a true shortstop than North Carolina's Adams, but Adams is a safer pick and probably will go earlier in the draft.

Another possible sandwich option would be Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene, who probably will have to move to second base down the road as a pro. But Greene, who has to be our leading candidate for College Player of the Year, can be a really good offensive second baseman. A 14th-round pick of the Cubs last year, Greene has seriously boosted his stock.

    Now that Jason Stokes is healthy and tearing up low Class A, do you see any promotions coming this year? How far removed from the Marlins do you think he is?

    Michael Stern
    Rochester, N.Y.

In early March, I fielded a question from Jason Philpott in Herndon, Va., who wanted to know whether Stokes' lackluster pro debut (.231-6-19 with 48 strikeouts in 35 short-season games last year) should be held against him. I thought it shouldn't, because he had back and hamstring problems and rarely was 100 percent physically.

Stokes has made me look go thus far, getting off to a .396-6-25 start at Kane County. He has cut down on his whiffs, fanning 28 times in as many games, and is looking very much like the dangerous slugger the Marlins thought they were getting when they signed him for $2.027 million after taking him in the second round of the 2000 draft. If that draft had gone according to talent, he would have been a first-round pick.

Because Stokes didn't play in 2000 because he signed late, and was limited in 2001, I'd be all for letting him tear up the Midwest League for a good long while. Stokes is just 20, which is plenty young for the MWL. If I were running the Marlins, well, I'd probably be writing this on a laptop that used to belong to the Expos, but I digress. If I were running the Marlins, I'd leave him at Kane County for most of 2002, start him at high Class A and anticipate a midseason promotion to Double-A in 2003 and hopefully have him major league-ready toward the end of 2004.

May 10, 2002

Well, maybe I shouldn't have said anything. After mentioning last time that there hasn't been a prospect who has suddenly shot up the charts and into the first round, now we have one. Outfielder Jeremy Hermida of Wheeler High in Marietta, Ga., now could be a possible top-five pick after not making our High School Top 100 Prospects list before the season. That's great news for Hermida, who combines physical tools with a lot of baseball aptitude, and bad news for Clemson, which had signed him early and figured he'd come to college.

Speaking of the draft, our massive online coverage begins today. Allan Simpson has put together a fascinating chart that details the chances of players from various rounds of the draft making it to the majors. For instance, 22.8 percent of the players taken in the first 20 rounds from 1965-95 have appeared in the big leagues. There's much more, and subscribers can check it out by clicking here.

Also, thanks to Ask BA reader Joe Berish of Ann Arbor for tipping us off that Tigers righthander Fernando Rodney had his age revised by four years. He's the latest addition to our list of 124 age changes.

    Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn, the Reds' first two picks in the 1998 draft, have been awesome so far. What team, in your opinion, made the best first- and second-round selections in any single year since the amateur draft was established?

    Dan Kosove
    New York

We always love a good draft-related question, and this is a great one. I went back through all the draft lists and counted only combinations where both players were solid big leaguers. That meant the 1971 Royals didn't qualify with Roy Branch and George Brett (Brett was the second-rounder). Likewise, both players had to sign with the team, so the 1983 Twins didn't get credit for stiffing No. 1 overall pick Tim Belcher and second-rounder Billy Swift.

Here's my Top 10, with the first-rounder listed first in each case:

1. 1967 Orioles: Bobby Grich, Don Baylor
2. 1967 Cardinals: Ted Simmons, Jerry Reuss
3. 1977 Brewers: Paul Molitor, Kevin Bass
4. 1987 Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr., Dave Burba
5. 1981 Mariners: Mike Moore, Mark Langston
6. 1985 Expos: Pete Incaviglia, Randy Johnson
7. 1965 Reds: Bernie Carbo, Johnny Bench
8. 1992 Royals: Johnny Damon, Jon Lieber
9. 1986 Cardinals: Luis Alicea, Todd Zeile
10. 1990 White Sox: Alex Fernandez, Bob Wickman

I'm sure Alicea and Zeile don't overwhelm most of you, but that just points out how hit-and-miss the draft can be. That pair has combined to play more than 3,000 big league games, and most teams are lucky if both their first- and second-rounders make it to the majors for a cup of coffee. Look at Allan's chart, which I alluded to earlier, and you'll see that the odds that both players will even do that are less than one in three.

Three of the teams above had multiple picks in the first two rounds, and I simply went with the best guys. Seattle spent its initial 1981 second-round pick on Arizona State lefthander Kevin Dukes. Damon actually was Kansas City's fourth first-rounder in 1992, behind Michael Tucker, Jim Pittsley and Purdue righthander Sherard Clinkscales. St. Louis' first second-rounder in 1986 was used on California high school first baseman/lefthander Reed Olmstead.

Of course, the Expos never got much out of Incavigilia, as the only way he would agree to sign with Montreal is if he were traded immediately. The Expos sent him to Texas for Bob Sebra and Jim Anderson.

There are two other combinations that are off to good starts in the majors and could crack the Top 10 in the future. The 1995 Angels took Darin Erstad and Jarrod Washburn with their first two picks, while the 1993 Red Sox started off with Trot Nixon and Jeff Suppan.

And here's a second Top 10 of pairs that look promising but have barely begun to make an impact (if any) in the big leagues. They're listed in chronological order, with the first-rounder again listed first:

1996 Phillies: Adam Eaton, Jimmy Rollins
1997 Twins: Michael Cuddyer, Mike Restovich
1998 Cubs: Corey Patterson, David Kelton
1999 Devil Rays: Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford
1999 Reds: Ty Howington, Ben Broussard
2000 Marlins: Adrian Gonzalez, Jason Stokes
2000 Padres: Mark Phillips, Xavier Nady
2000 White Sox: Joe Borchard, Tim Hummel
2001 Royals: Colt Griffin, Roscoe Crosby
2001 Yankees: John-Ford Griffin, Jason Arnold

    In three weeks, we'll host the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. As a minor league guy, I don't get to follow the college ranks very closely. What players should we be on the lookout for in the tournament as prospects, either draft-eligible this year or in the future? I know of Drew Meyer at South Carolina, and Alan Horne at Ole Miss was a first-rounder last year, but who else is there? Didn't the White Sox have a couple of draft picks that signed with Louisiana State?

    Chris Jenkins
    Birmingham

The SEC always has prospects, but this isn't one of its better years. Its first draft pick likely won't be in Birmingham, because Kentucky righthander Joe Blanton's club won't qualify for the tournament. I'm going to operate on the assumption that the eight participants will be Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana State, Georgia, Mississippi, Auburn and Mississippi State. That's the order they'd be seeded if the tournament began today.

Based on that, here are the 10 best prospects for the 2002 draft:

1. Drew Meyer, ss, South Carolina
2. Alex Hart, rhp, Florida
3. T.J. Beam, rhp, Mississippi
4. Jon Papelbon, rhp, Mississippi State
5. Sean Barker, of, Louisiana State
6. Lance Cormier, rhp, Alabama
7. Bo Pettit, rhp, Louisiana State
8. Eric Brandon, rhp, Auburn
9. Pat Osborn, 3b, Florida
10. Mike Mueller, rhp, Auburn

It looks like we're going to have a bunch of lists in Ask BA today. Here are the top five picks at this point for 2003, not counting Tennessee catcher Javy Herrera, whose team won't be in Birmingham:

1. Paul Maholm, lhp, Mississippi State
2. Brian Wilson, rhp, Louisiana State
3. Aaron Hill, ss, Louisiana State
4. Landon Powell, c, South Carolina
5. David Marchbanks, lhp, South Carolina

And here's the top five for 2004, which doesn't include Vanderbilt lefty Jeremy Sowers, a first-round pick last year, or Commodores righty Scott Shapiro:

1. Alan Horne, rhp, Mississippi
2. Seth Smith, of, Mississippi
3. Josh Baker, rhp, Alabama
4. Clint Sammons, c, Georgia
5. Taylor Tankersley, lhp, Alabama

Smith is also a backup quarterback behind Eli Manning for the Rebels. The two White Sox draft picks you're thinking of are third-rounder Jonathan Zeringue from Louisiana and fourth-rounder Jay Mattox from Arkansas. Zeringue has moved from catcher to outfielder and just missed making my 2004 top five, while Mattox, an outfielder, has been redshirted.

    Where is Chris Smith, the No. 7 overall pick last year by the Orioles, pitching these days? I haven't seen his name at Delmarva, Frederick, or Bowie.

    Mark Curtis
    Waldorf, Md.

Smith, a lefthander from Cumberland (Tenn.) who began his college career as a Florida State outfielder, was limited to just two innings after signing last summer because of weakness in his pitching shoulder. He's in extended spring training, and though the Orioles are being very tight-lipped about his health, the guess here is that they at least had some concern.

Almost every other first-round pick from 2001, even the less-experienced prospects out of high school, is on a full-season roster. The exceptions are Rangers third baseman Mark Teixeira (No. 5 overall choice), who isn't playing anywhere after injuring his elbow in spring training; Royals righthander Colt Griffin (No. 9); Giants righthander Brad Hennessey (No. 21), who's recovering after having a benign tumor removed near his neck in February; and Braves outfielder Josh Burrus (No. 29).

Baltimore expects to assign Smith to a short-season team in June. The most likely destination in that case would be Cal Ripken Jr.'s new Aberdeen club in the New York-Penn League.

In other news about Orioles pitching prospects and their shoulders, Luis Rivera has surgery to repair a torn labrum on Tuesday and is out for the season. It's the second time Rivera had that operation in the last 14 months, and it means this will be the second straight year that he didn't make it to the mound. His once-promising career appears in dire straits now.

May 7, 2002

We're back to the regular question-and-answer format for Ask BA now that I've gotten the great minor league pitching staffs out of my system. I did get an email suggesting I investigate the best lineups in minor league history, but my two immediate thoughts were 1) I value my marriage and sanity too much too immerse myself in that much research again, especially at draft time, and 2) there was no name and hometown on the question. If you want your questions answered, please include that information. We ask nicely at the top of this page, you know.

We're continuing to amass as much information about the draft as possible, as we kick off our official draft coverage on the web on Friday. We constantly get asked about who's emerging as a surprise first-round pick this year, and the answer legitimately is no one. No John VanBenschotens or Colt Griffins are coming out of the woodwork. The most obscure player who looks like a first-rounder at this point is Northeast Texas CC righthander Derick Grigsby, who isn't under control as a draft-and-follow. His fastball has reached 96 mph, which overshadows the fact that he's not real big (6 feet tall) and still fairly raw. Grigsby pitched last year at Texas, hitting four batters in one inning versus Stanford and going 1-0, 5.73 overall in 11 innings.

    What is the deal with Bobby Jenks? He can throw 100 mph, but he never has had a good pro season while walking more than his fair share and having a career ERA of 6.01. Yet still everybody at Baseball America loves him and Peter Gammons is calling him a "monster." Is there something I'm missing?

    Dennis Donohoe
    Kenmore, Wash.

I don't think everyone at BA loves Jenks. I like him and think he has one of the livest arms in the minors, but I'm still not convinced he's a can't-miss superstar. Plenty of guys have had great stuff but never figured out how to win in the majors. Jenks, 21 and a fifth-round pick in 2001 draft, still has to learn how to do that. He's young and has plenty of time, but he's going to need to make major strides with his command. Probably because they both came up with the Angels, I think of 1992 first-round pick Jeff Schmidt when I think of Jenks. Schmidt had an electric arm, too, but he never figured it out.

Jenks is up to his old tricks at Double-A Arkansas this year. He has been inconsistent through his first six starts, going 3-3, 4.99 with 27 hits, 25 walks and 28 strikeouts in 31 innings. I think he might be better suited in the long term to a bullpen role, so he can just blow hitters away with his fastball and his power curveball. It's a small sample size, but it's still interesting that Jenks has had a 2.50 ERA through the first three innings of games this year, and an 8.53 ERA afterward.

Josh Boyd and I like to give each other a hard time about Bobby Jenks. Josh definitely does love Jenks, so I tend to email him when Jenks has a rough outing. Josh tends to email me when Jenks pitches well, as he did in his last start. Here's what Josh has to say about Jenks:

Well, I will say that not everybody at BA loves him. In fact, if you look, I'll bet that the majority of the times Jenks is mentioned, my name is in the byline. You raise valid questions about Jenks' track record. But here are the reasons I like Jenks as a prospect, and why every scout I've talked to about him believes in him

First is the velocity. But more importantly, his velocity is easy. For those of you who haven't seen him throw, you might expect a big guy with a maximum-effort delivery. Jenks is anything but. His arm works well and he has a clean delivery. Of course, there's still the matter of learning to repeat the delivery consistently and maintain a consistent arm slot. The reason scouts believe he'll achieve that is because he makes it look easy and there are no uncorrectable mechanical flaws. Jenks also shows the ability to spin his breaking ball, and at times it's a true power curveball—a plus major league pitch. Again it comes down to repeating the motion, working ahead in the count and trusting his stuff. Jenks also shows a feel for his changeup, which he only recently has developed. When he struggles, it's because he's falling behind in the count and throwing his fastball right down the middle. He's still young and he has matured a great deal since being drafted.

As Angels scouting director Donny Rowland told me, "His command should come. He can repeat his delivery, and that's why we can project command as scouts. He's not a head-jerk guy who's going to throw 100 mph with no idea where it's going. Nothing scares him. He doesn't back down."

Jenks' development will require patience, there's no doubt about that. It also will feature its share of ups and downs. His stuff could make him a frontline starter, but if his command doesn't come as expected, he still projects as a potentially dominating closer.

    What do you think of Astros outfield prospect Charlton Jimerson? And what do you see as his future? His numbers so far this year in the South Atlantic League aren't spectacular, but they're good and show improvement from last year, especially in batting average.

    Mark Maurer
    Millburn, N.J.

Jimerson is one of my favorite minor league players. Not just because he has stunning across-the-board potential, but just because of what he had to overcome. Though his mother was a crack addict who often abandoned him and his younger brother, and his father physically abused his mother and now is homeless, Jimerson didn't give up. He attended Miami on an academic scholarship and walked on the baseball team. For most of his college career, he sat on the Hurricanes bench. Last April, it looked like the highlights on his Miami experience were going to be completing his computer-science degree and earning a 1999 College World Series ring as a reserve.

Then an injury created an opening for Jimerson in the Hurricanes lineup, and he never looked back. He homered three times in six games against Florida State and was Miami's best player in the postseason, earning MVP honors in Omaha as the Hurricanes won their second national title in three years. Scouts compare Jimerson's physique to that of a young Eric Davis, and his ceiling is huge. He's just very raw and is going to need time to develop.

Jimerson, 22, was a fifth-round pick last June. He's a little old for the low Class A SAL, though the Astros don't have a high Class A club. Even if they did, he's so inexperienced that it's a good idea to let him build some success. That's what he has been doing, hitting .308-3-17 with 11 steals in 29 games this year. He's still striking out too much, with 32 whiffs in 104 at-bats, and his biggest challenge is going to be tightening his swing and his approach. I'll be rooting for him, and I wouldn't bet against him.

    I have seen Denard Span of Tampa's Catholic High play several times. He's very fast and has great bat speed. I'm not sure what his numbers are, but he looks like the real deal. What is the official scouting report on him? How high might he be selected in the draft?

    Jack Kilbride
    Tampa

Span probably will go off the board in the middle of the first round. I think a consensus would rank him as the fourth-best position player available in the draft behind Virginia high school shortstop B.J. Upton, Clemson third baseman Jeff Baker and California prep shortstop Scott Moore. It's possible that two sons of former big league sluggers, Missouri high school first baseman/outfielder John Mayberry and Florida prep first baseman Prince Fielder, could go before Span, but more teams would prefer Span.

An all-Florida wide receiver at the 2-A high school level, Span is a top athlete. He has exciting speed that has drawn comparisons to Kenny Lofton. Span plays center field very well and shows some hitting ability from the left side of the plate, so he doesn't appear to be just a burner who can't do anything else.

May 3, 2002

Finally, the quest is over. As you may recall, on April 5 I first started to tackle the following question:

    What is your assessment of the 2002 Mobile BayBears pitching staff? Does it have the opportunity to be the best pitching staff ever assembled in minor league history? The pitching staff will have not only the best prospects in the Padres organization, but in the entire major leagues as well. If they aren't considered the best ever, whom could they be compared to?

    Gerard Kwilecki
    Valdosta, Ga.

I ranked what turned out to be a very preliminary Top 10 that day. More resources became available to me—the most valuable being Baseball Weekly's Mat Olkin and the Professional Baseball Player Database—and I kept finding better pitching staffs. So I took some time to research the matter as thoroughly as possible. I even survived the death of my hard drive. Because the PBPD is complete from the years 1930-85, I'm 99.44% confident that I haven't missed any great mound corps going back to 1930. Before that there probably weren't many staffs that fit my criteria (more on that in a second), because the minors were an entirely different animal than we have today. Still, the Top 20 includes a couple of teams from the 1920s.

As the project grew out of hand, I realized I had to set specific criteria to determine what qualified as a pitching staff. I focused on the second word of that phrase and decided a team needed at least three pitchers who had lengthy or significant major league careers. So while the 1917 Memphis Chickasaws had a pair of Hall of Famers in Waite Hoyt and Dazzy Vance, obscure big leaguer Alex McColl as the third guy wasn't enough to make it. I also focused on pitchers who had a future, rather than guys who were at the end of the line. The 1968 Toledo Mud Hens didn't get credit for flamed-out Dick Radatz, who would have put them on the Top 20 had he been considered along with Mike Marshall, Dick Drago and Jim Rooker. Furthermore, I avoided anyone who wasn't with a team long enough to work 50 innings, make 10 starts or relieve 20 times. The 1950 Kansas City Blues had two terrific lefties in Whitey Ford and Lew Burdette, and adding in Bob Porterfield would have vaulted them into the Top 10, but Porterfield was only there briefly. (Spec Shea arguably would have been just decent enough as a third guy, but he was in mid-career, so that settled that.)

One change I made since I started on this a month ago was that I decided not to include a staff it two of its members were on a different team that ranked higher. If I counted overlapping staffs, they would have elbowed the bottom six teams off the Top 20.

And away we go . . .

1. 1964 Portland Beavers. It's hard to understand how the Indians could have endured a 41-year postseason drought, considering all of the pitching talent it developed in the 1960s. The greatest minor league pitching staff ever was Cleveland's 1964 Portland affiliate, which had Tommy John (6-6, 4.26), Luis Tiant (15-1, 2.04), Sam McDowell (8-0, 1.18), Steve Hargan (11-9, 3.46) and George Culver (4-2, 1.18). That's four players who combined for 14 All-Star Game selections—Hargan made it 1967, his first full year as a starter—and Culver, who made 335 appearances in the majors. Looking at it another way, it's 793 big league victories, which I believe is a record.

If I didn't pick this team, I would have picked the 1963 Jacksonville Suns, another Cleveland farm club, which had John, Mike Cuellar, McDowell and Sonny Siebert. That foursome has 754 wins, 16 all-star berths and half of a Cy Young Award. Also on hand was Ted Abernathy, who had 148 saves in the majors but was six appearances short of qualifying. The 1962 Charleston Indians were another permutation, with John, Tiant and Siebert, a stronger top three than Jacksonville had.

The 1957 San Diego Padres, also part of the Indians system, had Mudcat Grant, Gary Bell and Hank Aguirre—three more all-stars, 341 more wins. Cleveland's Fargo-Moorhead club that same year boasted Jim Perry (215 wins, three all-star selections, one Cy Young) and Ron Taylor (491 games, 72 saves).

So what happened? The Indians essentially gave everyone away before they hit their primes. Outside of getting Graig Nettles when they traded Tiant to the Twins, and stealing Gaylord Perry from the Giants for an almost-done McDowell, Cleveland almost never got as much value as they gave up. The worst transactions were sending John, along with a young Tommy Agee and all-star catcher John Romano, to the White Sox for cult hero Rocky Colavito, and swapping Jim Perry straight up for Jack Kralick. I'm not sure if Cuellar ever was Indians property, as he was released by the Reds after 1961, spent 1962 pitching in his native Mexico and begin 1963 with the Tigers' Knoxville affiliate. But Cleveland could have kept him if it had wanted, as he stayed with Jacksonville when it became a Cardinals club in 1964 and worked his way up to St. Louis.

2. 1924 Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore won seven consecutive International League championships from 1919-25 and is virtually everyone's choice for the best minor league team ever. Babe Ruth could have been part of this club had Jack Dunn not sold him to the Red Sox when the cost of doing business rose dramatically when the Federal League was created in 1914. When the Federal League died, Dunn was content to keep his best players rather than sell them to major league clubs. As a result, Lefty Grove spent 1920-24 with the Orioles, going 109-36 before the Philadelphia Athletics purchased him for a record $106,000. Baltimore went 117-48 in 1924, armed with arguably the best pitcher ever in Grove (26-6, 3.01), plus Tommy Thomas (16-11, 4.08) and George Earnshaw (7-0, 3.38), who won 244 games in the majors between them. I also credited Baltimore with Jack Ogden (19-6, 3.63), whom Bill James says was generally accepted as the minors' best pitcher in the 1920s. Ogden won 213 games in the minors and his lifetime .674 winning percentage is the all-time record. He had a brief major league career and no doubt could have done more at that level if given the opportunity, but at the time it wasn't a natural progression for a top prospect to head swiftly to the majors. I initially counted another Baltimore mainstay, Rube Parnham (6-5, 4.84), who won 167 games in the minors in similar circumstances to Ogden's. I since have discovered that Parnham was at the end rather than the beginning of his career.

3. 1966 Richmond Braves. At the time, Phil Niekro (3-4, 3.67) was just a struggling reliever, though he would launch his Hall of Fame career the following year by leading the National League in ERA. Ron Reed (5-2, 3.52) spent 19 years in the majors as a starter and reliever for seven playoff teams. Niekro, Reed and Pat Jarvis (6-5, 3.88) were the main three starters on Atlanta's 1969 NL West champions, while Cecil Upshaw (5-5, 2.87) was the ace reliever.

4. 1965 Arkansas Travelers. Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins (8-6, 2.95), Rick Wise (8-16, 4.45) and Grant Jackson (9-11, 3.95) spent just 14 of their 55 combined big league seasons with parent Philadelphia. Jenkins to the Cubs for Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl and Jackson to the Orioles for Roger Freed were bad deals for the Phillies, but they atoned somewhat by sending Wise to the Cardinals for Steve Carlton. Despite all that pitching, Arkansas finished 10th in the 12-team Pacific Coast League. The team's leading winner, probably through sheer will, was Dallas Green (12-7, 3.66), who had a modest major league career before going on to bigger things.

5. 1972 Albuquerque Dukes. Manager Tom Lasorda no doubt thanked the Big Dodger In The Sky for his PCL championship team, which included Charlie Hough (14-5, 2.38), Rick Rhoden (7-1, 3.83), Geoff Zahn (10-1, 4.71), Doug Rau (14-3, 3.51) and Eddie Solomon (1-5, 4.25). Spokane won the 1970 PCL title with a staff that had Hough, Doyle Alexander and Zahn, then slumped to sixth in 1971 despite having Hough, Alexander, Rau and on-his-way-out Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm.

6. 1932 Decatur Commodores. The Commodores couldn't stay solvent in the midst of the Depression, folding on July 12, three days before the Three-I League collapsed. They also couldn't win ballgames, going 24-53 for the worst record in the league. But they did have three pitchers who would combined for 483 big league wins: Dutch Leonard (7-4, ERAs unavailable) and Claude Passeau (2-5), who each made five All-Star Games, and Eldon Auker (1-6).

7. 1926 Toronto Maple Leafs. This was the club that finally dethroned the Orioles in the IL, winning 109 regular-season games and then sweeping Louisville five games to none in the Junior World Series. Ownie Carroll (21-8, 3.56) led the staff in wins and had a moderately successful big league career, but he's better remembered as one of the best pitchers in the early years of college baseball (50-2 in four seasons at Holy Cross) and as a longtime coach at Seton Hall. Lefty Stewart (18-9, 2.99) and Vic Sorrell (8-0, 3.08) each had big years and would spend a decade in the majors. Little-noticed Carl Hubbell (7-7, 3.77) would make the biggest splash down the road, however. Discouraged from throwing his patented screwball by the Tigers, Hubbell eventually forced a trade to the Giants and wound up in Cooperstown.

8. 1976 Rochester Red Wings. Cuellar and Dave McNally finally had faded in Baltimore, but help was on the way for Jim Palmer. Dennis Martinez (14-8, 2.50), Mike Flanagan (6-1, 2.12) and Scott McGregor (8-1, 2.25) all became all-stars and combined for 550 victories in the majors. McGregor, acquired in a midseason trade with the Yankees, had been part of another pretty decent IL threesome that year at Syracuse with Ron Guidry and Jim Beattie.

9. 1941 Columbus Red Birds. Branch Rickey showed everyone how to build a farm system, as Cardinals affiliates were loaded with pitching. Columbus won the American Association pennant as well as the Little World Series. Murry Dickson (21-11, 3.30), Harry Brecheen (16-6, 3.64) and Preacher Roe (11-9, 3.97) all had lengthy careers that included trips to the All-Star Game and World Series. That same year, the Cardinals' Texas League affiliate in Houston had three pitchers who all contributed to St. Louis' run of success in the 1940s: Howie Pollet (20-3, 1.16), Al Brazle (11-5, 3.35) and Ted Wilks (20-10, 2.50). Houston, which didn't make this list, was led in wins by Fred Martin (23-6, 1.54), who reached the majors but is better known for jumping to the Mexican League and for being the pitching coach who taught Bruce Sutter how to throw a splitter. Two other stalwart staffs were closely related to the 1941 Red Birds. The 1939 Houston Buffaloes had Dickson, Brecheen and Wilks, plus Ernie White (whose Game Three shutout turned the 1942 World Series around) and Howie Krist (whose .771 winning percentage is a record for any modern player who can match or exceed his 48 decisions). In 1942, Brecheen and Roe returned to Columbus and were joined by Wilks and three-time all-star Red Munger. The Red Birds successfully defended their Little World Series title.

10. 1983 Indianapolis Indians. No club produced as much bullpen help as Indianapolis, which featured future closers John Franco (6-10, 4.85), Greg Harris (9-12, 4.14) and Jeff Russell (5-5, 3.55). The Indians also yielded a 140-win starter in Charlie Leibrandt (3-4, 3.87).

11. 1960 Tacoma Giants. Besides the Waite Hoyt/Dazzy Vance 1917 Memphis Chickasaws mentioned earlier, Tacoma was the only other club I found with two Hall of Fame pitchers. Juan Marichal (11-5, 3.11) wrapped up his minor league apprenticeship, while Perry (0-0, 9.00) wouldn't become an established big leaguer until three years later. Perry didn't help this team's ranking because he pitched just one game and one inning for the Giants; had he qualified, this staff might have ranked No. 1. Eddie Fisher (17-12, 3.31) and Bobby Bolin (2-4, 4.09) were solid performers during lengthy big league careers.

12. 1972 Wichita Aeros. The early 1970s Cubs were a lot like the late 1950s/early 1960s Indians, developing a lot of pitching but not being smart enough to hang on it. Wichita won the 1972 AA pennant behind Rick Reuschel (9-2, 1.33) and Larry Gura (11-4, 3.65), two of the more underrated pitchers in recent memory, plus Bill Bonham (10-4, 3.54). The year before, Chicago's Triple-A Tacoma club had Burt Hooton, Gura, Jim Colborn and Joe Decker. The Cubs' 1974 Key West and 1975 Midland staffs had four more significant arms (see below). Ray Burris also came up at the same time as these guys. Yet Chicago never finished over .500 from 1973-83.

13. 1975 Charleston Charlies. The Pirates' 1979 World Series championship had roots in Charleston. John Candelaria (7-1, 1.78) won Game Six to tie the Series, while Kent Tekulve (5-4, 1.78) saved three games, including the finale. Phil Garner, who led Pittsburgh with a .500 Series average, arrived from Oakland in a nine-player 1977 deal that included Rick Langford (7-2, 3.32) and Doug Bair (9-12, 3.02), as well as Tony Armas and Mitchell Page.

14. 1937 Columbus Red Birds. Another Rickey/Cardinals special. This one's headliners were Mort Cooper (13-13, 4.10), a three-time 20-game winner and the 1942 NL Most Valuable Player; Max Lanier (10-4, 3.06), who won critical games in the 1942 and 1944 World Series to help the Cards claim championships; and Nels Potter (11-11, 3.56), the leading winner on the only St. Louis Browns team (1944) to reach the Fall Classic. Ed Heusser (4-5, 5.50) led the NL in ERA in 1944, while Bill McGee (17-7, 2.97) had a respectable eight-year career.

15. 1938 Houston Buffaloes. More of the same for Rickey and the Cardinals, with four pitchers we've previously discussed: Brecheen (13-10, 3.06), Cooper (13-10, 2.34), Wilks (3-5, 2.74) and Munger (2-5, 3.97).

16. 1982 Albuquerque Dukes. Had John Franco (1-2, 7.24) and Alejandro Pena (1-1, 5.34) made more than cameos in Albuquerque, this staff could have moved up into the top five. As it was, the Dukes still had Orel Hershiser (9-6, 3.71), Sid Fernandez (6-5, 5.42) and Ted Power (5-4, 5.18). Unfortunately for the Dodgers, they gave away Fernandez (to the Mets for Bob Bailor and Carlos Diaz) and Power (to the Reds for Mike Ramsey) for next to nothing. They did the same with Franco, shipping him to Cincinnati for Rafael Landestoy.

17. 1978 Memphis Chicks. Scott Sanderson (5-3, 4.03) and Bill Gullickson (1-4, 3.06) reached Double-A in their first full pro seasons and would win 325 big league games between them. Bryn Smith (4-6, 2.48) topped 100 victories as well, and Charlie Lea (3-3, 3.57) probably would have done the same if not for arm troubles. David Palmer (8-10, 3.05) spent nine years in the majors.

18. 1980 Pawtucket Red Sox. Bruce Hurst (8-6, 3.94), John Tudor (4-5, 3.65) and Bobby Ojeda (6-7, 3.22) gave Pawtucket three solid lefthanders, and Mike Smithson (5-9, 2.91) would make 204 big league starts. Despite that foursome and hitters such as Wade Boggs and Rich Gedman, the Pawsox went 62-77 and finished four games out of last place.

19. 1975 Midland Cubs. Bruce Sutter (5-7, 2.15) deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. He was joined at Midland by longtime major leaguers Mike Krukow (13-6, 3.41), Dennis Lamp (7-5, 3.33) and Donnie Moore (14-8, 2.97). The same foursome pitched for the 1974 Key West Conchs, though Lamp and Sutter made only brief appearances. Key West finished a dreadful 37-94, including a dreadful 19-62 when one of these four guys didn't get the decision.

20. 1969 Tidewater Tides. Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw came up shortly before this with the Mets, but never combined long enough at one stop. (Koosman and McGraw spent 1967 in Jacksonville, but Ryan was around for just seven innings—that was long enough to accumulate 18 strikeouts.) The best New York staff of that era was this Tidewater trio of Jon Matlack (14-7, 4.14), Steve Renko (3-6, 5.45) and Jim Bibby (4-4, 3.48). Each won at least 100 games in the big leagues, though only Matlack pitched for the Mets. Dependable reliever Danny Frisella (11-2, 2.76) was another Tide.

One recent staff has obvious potential to one day claim a spot on the Top 20. The 1991 San Antonio Missions featured Pedro Martinez (7-5, 1.76), Pedro Astacio (4-11, 4.78) and Dennis Cook (1-3, 2.49). But to move past Tidewater, Martinez and Astacio need to keep chugging along for at least another three years.

That's all for now. The database people hope to extend their research back to 1900, and if they do that I may revisit this subject. And, of course, if you have any other candidates, please email me at Ask BA. I'm not sure whether I should thank or curse Gerard. This took a lot of work, but I also found it extremely interesting. Keep the questions coming.

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