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By Jim Callis
November 27, 2002
I had a lengthy Red Sox-related chat earlier today, which was a lot of fun. A few things to keep in mind about our chats:
We only get to see 10 questions at a time, and if you don't get your questions in early, it's going to take a while for us to get them. If you ask a question similar to something we've already covered, we're probably going to ignore it for something fresh. And if it's a topic-specific chat, like this one was, keep your questions on point. I wasn't going to address Chase Utley in a discussion about the Red Sox.
We're going to try to get the person who writes each of our Top 10 Prospects lists to be available for a chat to answer your questions. We hope this will give you some insight as to how we put our rankings together and to learn more about your favorite organization.
Josh Boyd has been busy putting together a Top Prospects list for the AFL, so I passed this question to him. Josh never misses an opportunity to talk about Bobby Jenks, and here's what he had to say:
Before I get started, I want to point out that we shouldn't jump to any conclusions about prospects based on their Fall League performance. All 30 organizations scout it, and it's a good way to get a read on a player's tools, but I've had several scouts tell me that such-and-such prospect was tired when they saw him and they know he has better stuff than that.
When you take a look back at past year's AFL leader boards, you'll see guys like Chad Moeller and Allen Dina atop the league in hitting. Same goes for pitching: See Elvin Nina, Matt Miller . . .
Getting back to the question, there are things that can be learned from the AFL. For instance, most scouts I've talked to about Drew Henson aren't worried he hit .211. They're concerned about the holes in his swing that were exposed. Henson could be worn out, but his bat speed was fringe-average for most people I've talked with. His defense was troublesome as well, though the Yankees had several instructors there, including Don Mattingly, to improve his footwork at third base.
Brandon Phillips? His status didn't improve or decline based on his .238 average in Arizona. He was and still is one of the top 10 prospects in baseball. He went there specifically to work on playing second base.
Prospects can enhance their stock. Righthanders Bobby Jenks (Angels) and Kyle Snyder (Royals) and lefthander Mike Gonzalez (Pirates) were coming off disappointing years in one way or another, and they were able consistently show command of plus stuff in the AFL. For Jenks, the ability to find the strike zone and throw his hammer curveball more frequently was a major step in the right direction.
But if Joe Thurston hits .133, don't fret. And when Dane Sardinha hits .311 after posting a 114-14 strikeout-walk ratio during the regular season, don't pencil him in the Reds' 2003 lineup just yet.
Some other prospects I've been hearing encouraging reports on are Mariners righthander Rett Johnson, Braves lefty Horacio Ramirez, Cubs righthander Jon Leicester and Yankees righty Adrian Hernandez. Two Diamondbacks, catcher Rob Hammock and infielder Matt Kata, emerged as potential role players.
Paul Vanden Bosche
Madritsch, our Independent Player of the Year, drew interest from several major league organizations after a breakout season in the Northern League. He went 11-4, 2.30 and set a league record with 153 strikeouts (against just 36 walks) in 125 innings. The league hit just .205 against him.
He signed with the Mariners after the season and was placed on the 40-man roster. Madritsch won't crack our Mariners Top 10 Prospects list, which I'm writing for an issue that's still a few weeks away, but he'll rank somewhere in the 11-25 range in our Prospect Handbook. He gets a lot of life on his 92-94 mph fastball and also throws a curveball and changeup, both of which need some work.
Madritsch, 26, originally entered pro ball as a Reds sixth-round pick in 1998, out of Point Park (Pa.), an NAIA school. He led the Rookie-level Pioneer League in strikeouts (87 in 80 innings) while finishing third in wins (seven) and ERA (2.80) in his pro debut. But he hurt his shoulder and had surgery that cost him all of 1999 and limited him to 32 innings in 2000. Released by Cincinnati in March 2001, he spent that year in the indy Texas-Louisiana and Western Leagues.
Gwynn is the son of future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who's in his first year as head coach at San Diego State. Anthony batted .318 and .339 in his first two seasons with the Aztecs, and really impressed scouts this summer in the Cape Cod League. Using wood bats, he hit .291 with 11 steals in 44 games and played the best center field on the Cape. He has a solid approach and uses a line-drive swing.
I rated Gwynn 12th on our Cape Cod Top 30 Prospects list. A lot can change between now and the draft, obviously, but for now he projects as a mid-second-round pick.
I'll let John Manuel, our college expert, handle this one. John responds:
Both players had big seasons, but get marked down by scouts and coaches because of Morehead State's Allen Field, which is considered a hitter's haven (the right-center power alley is just 335 feet from home plate). The Eagles led Division I in home runs last year with 127 in just 56 games and ranked sixth in runs.
Page has good power and size at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, but isn't a good runner. He's moving to first base this season, and with his lefthanded pop (his 26 homers were an Ohio Valley Conference record) and size, he should get some looks as a senior sign.
Matuszek, who's 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, has some similarities to his father, former big leaguer Len Matuszek. He plays third base now but could move across the diamond later. His arm is a little short for third, though he has worked hard to improve his throwing mechanics. Like his dad, Matuszek has powerthough he bats righthanded while his dad hit leftybut didn't show it in the Shenandoah Valley League last summer.
Matuszek had a cartilage tear in his right wrist that short-circuited his power, but he still hit well, posting a .397 on-base percentage, leading the league in walks while ranking second in RBIs and third in runs. He's also fairly athletic. While not a premium prospect, his performance with wood bats could make him a sleeper senior.
November 20, 2002
I just learned of some bad news. Dick Case, one of Baseball America's best friends, died Tuesday at his home in Hamilton, N.J., at age 73.
Dick served as executive director of what today is known as USA Baseball from 1978 through 1996. He worked diligently to promote baseball at the grass-roots levels and to get the sport included in the Olympics. Dick also encouraged Baseball America editor Allan Simpson in the early days of the magazine, and was always helpful when I dealt with him on the Team USA beat. Dick had strong opinions, which isn't unusual, and wasn't afraid to share them, which is far less common.
The ninth overall pick in the 2001 draft, Griffin certainly has a high ceiling, but he has struggled so much that it's hard to see him reaching it. He spent most of this year at low Class A Burlington and Midwest League observers were generally unimpressed with him beyond his arm strength and athleticism. The Royals have taught him that command matters more than velocity, so Griffin has dialed his fastball down to 93-94 mph. He still had lots of trouble throwing strikes, and his secondary pitches need plenty of refinement.
In 95 innings between Burlington and high Class A Wilmington (where he made three appearances), Griffin went 6-7, 5.29 and his secondary numbers were scarier: 78 hits, 87 walks, 69 strikeouts. I did a quick search of minor league stats going back to 1984, looking for pitchers who averaged at least a walk per inning while working at least 50 innings in a season. I found two eventual big league all-stars, Mitch Williams and Jeff Nelson (whose 1986 line was horrific: 73 IP, 84 H, 87 BB, 38 K). The third-best pitcher was Terry Adams, and there weren't many other notable names who reached the majors.
I also discovered that Dave Stewart had more walks than innings in the minors in 1976, so there's at least one example of a pitcher overcoming acute wildness to become a quality big league starter. Though Griffin is just 20 and still has lots of time to figure out how to pitch, the odds of him becoming a frontline starter in the majors aren't good.
As we often say at Baseball America, it's nearly impossible to judge a draft until three or four years after the factnot that it stops us from trying to do so. I didn't write the "solid draft with good values" line, but I don't think BA managing editor Will Lingo was off the mark there.
The Red Sox got some very good values in Lester, an athletic lefthander with first-round talent whom they got late in the second round; Pelland, another intriguing lefty, who slid to the ninth round; Goss, a speedster who's the best athlete in the system and would have gone earlier than the 11th round if not for his NFL potential as a kick returner; and Concepcion, a catcher with power who struggled in the NY-P but could be a find in the 21st round. Boston also has been pleasantly surprised by righthanders Chris Smith (fourth round), who'll start 2003 in high Class A, and David Pahucki (23rd), who oozes pitchability.
It's tougher to get a read on guys like Lester, White and Pelland (they signed late and saw one inning of pro action between them) or Goss (who dislocated a finger 21 games into his career) because they haven't played much. But they have a lot of upside. So does third basemen Chad Spann (fifth), who like White has plenty of power and the chance to be a plus defender.
I wouldn't label Boston's efforts one of the best 2002 drafts at this point. But it was a solid effort for a team lacking a first-round pick. It will be interesting to see what the Red Sox do in future years, because they may start getting away from a high school emphasis and lean more toward college players.
Several of Seattle's top pitching prospects have gone down with serious injuries recently. Anderson and Heaverlo both missed all of 2002 after tearing their labrums in spring training, with Anderson doing so for the second consecutive year. Meche had two shoulder surgeries in 2001 and missed some time with stiffness in the joint at Double-A San Antonio this summer. Thornton blew out his elbow at San Antonio and required Tommy John surgery. And don't forget Cha Seung Baek, who had the same operation a year earlier. All were first-round picks except for Baek, considered a first-round talent when he signed out of Korea.
Meche has been pitching well in Venezuela this offseason and is ahead of the other recuperating pitchers at this point. Anderson and Heaverlo may be ready to take the mound in spring training, though Anderson will have to work harder than he did after his first injury. Baek's rehabilitation has gone slowly, so his status for the spring is uncertain. Thornton won't be able to throw until mid-2003 at the earliest.
As for Putz, he might be next in line behind Rafael Soriano among Mariners farmhands if Seattle needs a starter. A 1999 sixth-round pick from the University of Michigan, the 25-year-old righthander went 5-14, 3.72 between San Antonio and Triple-A Tacoma in 2002. Putz, who projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever, has a low-90s fastball and an average slider. He needs to throw his slider for strikes more consistently and must also improve his changeup. He'll open 2003 in Triple-A with those goals in mind.
East Brunswick, N.J.
The Yankees have three guys who fit that description, though all have durability questions.
Lefthander Brandon Claussen, 23, led the minors in strikeouts in 2001 but required Tommy John surgery in 2002. He won't return until mid-2003 at the earliest, but when he was right, he used a quality slider as his out pitch and also had an 89-94 mph fastball. Lefthander Sean Henn, 21, also is recovering from the same operation and missed all of this season. He touched 99 mph before signing for a draft-and-follow record bonus of $1.701 million in 2001. Righthander Chien-Ming Wang, 22, has three plus pitches with a 90-95 mph fastball, a slider and a splitter. But he has yet to reach full-season ball and was sidelined for all of 2001 with a shoulder injury.
One other name to watch for the future is righthander Jose Valdez. He's just 19 and very raw, but he regularly touches 97 mph and has added a devastating splitter. He may have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Yankees system.
As for Contreras, he hasn't been in the news as much lately because he's trying to establish residency in another country after seeking asylum in the United States. Once that happens, probably some time next month, Major League Baseball likely will rule him a free agent rather than subjecting him to the 2003 draft.
The Cuban defector projects as an almost-certain ace for whichever major league club lands him. The Yankees are currently putting a full-court press on Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui. If New York really is trying to show a modicum of financial restraint this offseason, I can't see how they could sign both Matsui and Contreras.
November 13, 2002
I'm not going to belabor the American League MVP voting, but I think the writers completely miss the point of "valuable." It doesn't have anything to do with what a team's owner decides to pay a player. And it really doesn't have much to do with team performance. Anyone who thinks the Athletics wouldn't have won more games with Alex Rodriguez (.300-57-142, 1.015 OPS) at shortstop instead of Miguel Tejada (.308-34-131, .861 OPS) probably also believes that A-Rod wouldn't have four World Series rings if he occupied Derek Jeter's spot on the Yankees.
What's the consensus regarding Hideki Matsui's tools? He obviously has power, but what about his defense, speed, baserunning and patience at the plate? Do most scouts think he has the makings of an impact player, or a good or perhaps better-than-average major leaguer?
Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui, 29, is expected to sign with the Yankees, whose YES network has business dealings with his former Japanese club, the Yomiuri Giants. He's arguably Japan's biggest star, having hit .304-332-889 in 1,268 games, including .334 with Central League-leading total in homers (50) and RBIs (107) in 140 contests this year. He also topped the CL in runs (112), walks (114), slugging (.697) and on-base percentage (.461) while finishing second in the batting race, and he hasn't missed a game since 1993. Lefthanded power is his calling card, and he also draws walks, so he reminds me of a slightly smaller Japanese version of Jason Giambi. (I wrote that Giambi comment before seeing that Josh Boyd had the same comparison in his latest edition of Prospect Pulse.)
Matsui is more athletic than Giambi. He has played center field for Yomiuri, though he's expected to shift to a corner in the United States. Given the success of several Japanese stars who have come to the U.S. majors (Hideo Nomo, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhisa Ishii), Matsui definitely has the chance to be an impact player. There should be no doubts remaining that Japan's best players can hold their own after crossing the Pacific. Though his power numbers may be somewhat inflated by cozy Japanese ballparks, Matsui has a quick bat and plate discipline, so he would have a very good chance to hit for both power and average.
Kazuo Matsui, 27, is a shortstop who's considered the best all-around player in Japan. He doesn't want to be posted by the Seibu Lions, preferring to have more control over his destiny by becoming a free agent after the 2003 season. He has hit .310-117-485 with 293 steals in 874 games. He's not nearly as patient as Godzilla, drawing just 321 walks. Kazuo Matsui is coming off his best year, hitting .332 with a career-high 36 homers. He led the Pacific League in runs (119), hits (193), doubles (46), triples (six) and total bases (359), finished second in slugging (.617) and steals (33) and third in batting.
Kazuo Matsui is a switch-hitter with the speed, range and arm to excel at shortstop. He has the tools to hit for average with perhaps 20 or so homers annually in the U.S. majors, though his walk totals indicate he might not be an ideal leadoff man. The best comparison I can come up with is Nomar Garciaparra, though Matsui is shorter, faster and not as strong. He's also similar to an in-his-prime Barry Larkin.
I don't have Bill James' specific passage on the subject in front of me, but I believe his point was that the earlier a player reaches the majors, the more likely he is to become a star. If, say, a 21-year-old is ready to play regularly in the big leagues, a normal career arc eventually should take him to stardom. Getting to the big leagues at age 25 isn't that exceptional, actually.
As a quick aside, there were 13 players who appeared in the majors last year who made their big league debuts before turning 20. In order from youngest to oldest, they were: Mike Morgan, Jose Rijo, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Andruw Jones, Wilson Alvarez, Rich Garces, Ken Griffey Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Van Poppel, Gary Sheffield, Karim Garcia, Juan Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez. That's a strong list, even more so if you only consider the players who got to the majors on merit. Morgan made it as a Charlie Finley publicity stunt, Alvarez was called up to showcase him for a trade, Van Poppel's contract got him to the majors before he was ready and no one has believed Garcia's listed age for years.
Getting back to the question at hand, age is very important but performance and tools can't be dismissed easier. A player who's young for his league still needs to show something on the diamond. I've never been overwhelmed by Luis Rivas, for instance, because he's never done much more than simply holding his own. We've also learned in the last year that many listed baseball ages are pure fiction.
With those disclaimers, here are the optimum prospect ages for each full-season level:
Triple-A 22-23 Double-A 21-22 High A 20-21 Low A 19-20
That doesn't mean a 23-year-old who succeeds in Double-A isn't a prospect. But I'd probably want to see him do it again in Triple-A before I got excited.
St. Charles, Ill.
Sanders is a better prospect than Stewart and could make the jump from Double-A to Comiskey Park in 2003. A 1999 sixth-round pick out of Barton County (Kan.) CC, the 23-year-old Sanders is leading the AFL in victories and ranks third in ERA at 6-0, 0.95. He has worked in middle relief, the same role in which he helped Birmingham win the Southern League championship this year. Sanders, whose best pitch is a power slider, went 3-1, 1.84 in 47 appearances with the Barons, striking out 61 in 64 innings. His fastball is average.
Stewart, 23, was taken out of the University of Memphis one round before Sanders in 1999. (The White Sox also signed Jason Stumm, Matt Ginter, Brian West, Danny Wright, Jon Rauch, Dennis Ulacia, Corwin Malone, Matt Guerrier and Joe Valentine in the same draft; they also selected but failed to land Bobby Hill, Scott Hairston and Juan Done.) He doesn't have the out pitch that Sanders has, but he has decent stuff with a high-80s fastball and a solid curveball. Stewart went 11-7, 3.53 in 26 starts at Birmingham, with 92 whiffs in 150 innings. In the AFL, he has gone 1-0, 0.95 in eight outings (seven starts). He projects more as a middle reliever than as a starter down the line.
I put together our Midwest League Top 20 Prospects list, and the consensus was that Gotay was a solid player but not a top-level prospect. He doesn't have a plus tool and he's nothing special at second base. He earned the managers' honor more because the MWL was short on flashy defensive second basemen. A 31st-round pick out of Indian Hills (Iowa) CC in 2000, the native Puerto Rican signed as a draft-and-follow in 2001.
Gotay's instincts are the strongest part of his game. If he can stay at second base, he has a chance. But if he can't, he doesn't profile to hit nearly enough to man a less demanding defensive position.
November 6, 2002
Apparently Eric Stults (see the October 30 Ask BA in the archives) wasn't as much of a sleeper as I've been led to believe. Two area scouts told me he was scouted by at least a half-dozen teams and was turned in as a draftable player. The consensus is that he was a good senior sign and a nice 15th-round pick, but other clubs did know who he was.
The Rangers are looking for a center fielder, and rumors abound that they'd be willing to part with Blalock in the right deal. But while Blalock for Patterson would be intriguing, I can't see the Rangers doing that. Patterson is the antithesis of the plate-disciplined player that Texas assistant GM Grady Fuson always looks for.
I'll digress here for a moment, because every few weeks I get someone asking me whether Patterson will ever reach his lofty ceiling. For the first time, I'm starting to have some doubts. He was promoted aggressively through the minors and to Wrigley Field, which has caused two problems: Patterson never learned to hit lefthanders or draw walks, and he apparently thinks he doesn't need to. He hasn't made the necessary adjustments at the major league level, batting .188 against southpaws and drawing just 19 walks in 153 games this season. Ten of those walks came in April and he drew one (!) free pass in the final two months while playing every day.
Patterson just turned 23 but he needs to be made to realize he has to make changes to his game rather than trying to cruise on natural ability. It also would help if he was told whether he was supposed to be a catalyst at the top of the order or a run producer in the middle of it.
I still think Blalock is going to be an offensive machine. He didn't do well in the majors this year, but he was just 21. I would trade Patterson for Blalock if I were running the Cubs, even though Jackson was hurt for much of 2002 and projects as more of a right fielder. But like I mentioned before, I don't see the Rangers pulling the trigger on this deal. The Cubs do have a lot of arms, but they're not going to throw an Angel Guzman or Andy Sisco into the trade to get it done.
Another question from Tampa asking me to play GMChuck LaMar better watch out. Of the pitchers that Mike mentions, I'd take Foppert, whom I consider the top pitching prospect in the minors. Floyd would be close behind him, but Harden would be further down the list. My top five righthanders, in order: Foppert, Jeremy Bonderman of the Tigers, Floyd, Colby Lewis of the Rangers and Adam Wainwright of the Braves.
Borrell is one of the Yankees' better prospects, but he's not a frontline guy. His fastball, breaking stuff and changeup are fairly average, though some scouts rate his changeup as a plus pitch. Borrell, a 23-year-old lefty who was a 2000 second-round pick out of Wake Forest, went 13-5, 2.32 between high Class A and Double-A this year. His strongest suit is his command, as evidenced by his 135-49 strikeout-walk ratio in 167 innings.
Pluta looked like a stud a year ago. A third-round pick out of a Las Vegas high school in 2000, he went 12-4, 3.20 with 138 strikeouts in 132 innings while making his pro debut in low Class A. He consistently threw 92-94 with little effort and occasionally touched the upper 90s. He also showed a hard curveball and a promising changeup, though he needed to work on his control after issuing 86 walks.
Pluta was in line for a promotion to high Class A in 2002, except for one small problem: The Astros didn't have a high Class A affiliate. So he stayed in low Class A, moving from the South Atlantic League to the Midwest League. Instead of dominating a level he was repeating, he got torched. Pluta went 11-13, 5.92 in 28 starts, with a 120-83 strikeout-walk ratio in 143 innings.
Pluta still worked in the low 90s, and his changeup became his second-best pitch. His breaking ball became more of a slurve. Command of his offspeed pitches and the cold weather in the MWL were blamed for his struggles early in the season, and he seemed to have righted himself by going 8-0, 3.86 in a 10-start stretch beginning in mid-May. But he regressed again after that, going 2-8, 5.88 in his final 11 outings.
He got hit a lot harder than someone with his fastball should, an indication that he has to improve his command and his secondary pitches. Pluta still could sneak into the Astros Top 10, because he has upside and not many players distinguished themselves in the Houston system this summer.
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