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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. Also, please understand that we can't respond to every question.

By Jim Callis

October 30, 2002

David Eckstein is a wonderful story, but it's a little much to act like the Red Sox' decision to waive him in 2000 is on a par with the sale of Babe Ruth. Yes, cutting Izzy Alcantara or Ed Sprague loose would have been a better move in retrospect. But at the time, Eckstein was hitting .246 with a .665 on-base plus slugging percentage in Triple-A despite playing his home games in a hitter-friendly park. He wasn't a tools player and looked like he had peaked in Double-A. That fall, I talked to an Angels official who dissuaded me from putting him on our Anaheim Top 30 Prospects list because he said at most, Eckstein might be a utility player. A lot of people were wrong on Eckstein, obviously, but exactly no one thought the Red Sox had made a mistake at the time they let him go.

Now that I'm back from a two-week hiatus and fresh off completing the Draft Report Cards (they'll be posted online by the end of the week), lets empty the 2002 draft-related questions out of the ol' Ask BA mailbag.

    Are the Cubs anywhere near to signing Bobby Brownlie? With Jeremy Guthrie signing for a $3 million bonus, is that approximately the price the Cubs will have to meet? If they sign him, where would he rate on the list of Cubs prospects? Which pitchers presently in the Cubs system are rated above Brownlie?

    Penny A. Simone
    Bellwood, Ill.

At this moment, the two sides aren't close. The Cubs are offering about $2.5 million, while the Brownlie camp (which includes Scott Boras) is asking for $4 million. Boras also represents Guthrie, who got a $3 million bonus as part of a $4 million major league contract as the No. 22 overall pick, going right behind Brownlie. Chicago GM Jim Hendry has a good track record of getting Boras clients signed, such as Bobby Hill and Chadd Blasko, and I suspect he'll land Brownlie at some point for approximately $3 million. Brownlie has said that there's an 80 percent chance he'll be pitching at Rutgers next season, but I'd file that statement with the one where Scott Kazmir said the University of Texas' College World Series championship had him really wanting to become a Longhorn.

Brownlie was considered the 2002 draft's top prospect before coming down with biceps tendinitis, so getting him with the No. 21 pick would be a coup for the Cubs. He could make a case for being their system's best prospect and would safely fit in the top five. Chicago's top minor league pitchers right now are Angel Guzman and Andy Sisco.

    I have been a Dodgers fan for most of my life and follow their minor leaguers. I was looking through some stats the other day and I came across a kid named Eric Stults. He was drafted in June (15th round) and made it all the way to Double-A in his first pro season. I also see he's now in the Arizona Fall League. I was wondering what you thought about him.

    Bill Swartz
    Logan, W.Va.

Stults was drafted out of Bethel (Ind.) College, not exactly a college baseball hotbed. He played basketball there as well, and also saw some time in the outfield, and didn't receive much notice. Dodgers area scout Marty Lamb spotted him and liked him, and also informed the club that Stults wouldn't have to be drafted high because no one else was in on him.

Stults, 22, is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound lefthander. He has an 88-92 mph fastball, and his best pitch is his slider. He also has an effective changeup, and he's athletic and had a good arm action. Pitching for three minor league teams, including a one-game cameo in Double-A, Stults went 4-1, 2.82 with 49 strikeouts in 51 innings. He's not pitching quite as well in the AFL, where he headed as an injury replacement for Steve Colyer, but Stults very much looks like a draft sleeper.

    What was wrong with Indians second baseman Micah Schilling? Was he overhyped at the draft? Why did he struggle so much when teammate Matt Whitney did so well?

    Eric Estes
    Fowler, Ohio

Scouts said that Schilling had the best swing of any Louisiana high schooler since Will Clark. Others compared him to Todd Walker, another Louisiana product. Then he went out and batted .206-0-10 with 39 strikeouts in 33 games at Rookie-level Burlington, where fellow supplemental first-rounder Whitney hit .286-10-33.

Schilling obviously will have to make some adjustments, but his biggest problem this summer may have been his right elbow. Schilling had surgery on the elbow earlier in his high school career, and he hyperextended it with Burlington this summer. After the season ended, he had a bone chip removed, and Schilling looked better in instructional league.

    I came across Steve Reba's stats at short-season Tri-City: 1.66 ERA and 47 strikeouts to four walks in 38 innings. I remember Reba from the College World Series, getting hit pretty hard and not having much velocity. Has he picked up some MPH and is he anywhere near some of the other young pitchers Colorado drafted, such as Jeff Francis and Ben Crockett?

    Sean Watt
    Newton, Mass.

Reba, a 21st-round pick in June, has the same stuff he used to go 33-11 in four years at Clemson. A righthander, he rarely works above 84-85 mph, but he gets a lot of movement with his fastball, has a solid breaking ball and commands all of his pitches. It's not uncommon for someone with that repertoire to dominate inexperienced hitters in short-season ball—see Kip Bouknight, 2001—and he'll have to continue to prove himself as he moves up the ladder.

He's not in the same class as first-rounder Francis or third-rounder Crockett, but Reba has a lot of success at a top college program. Former Clemson assistant Tim Corbin, now the head coach at Vanderbilt, is convinced Reba's know-how will allow him to pitch in the big leagues.

    What ever happened to Royals sixth-round pick Brandon Jones? Also, did 11th-round pick Kainoa Obrey of Brigham Young hire an agent?

    Larry Furse
    Sedona, Ariz.

Jones was one of the more intriguing players in the Southeast. At Wewahitchka (Fla.) High, he played football (quarterback, defensive back, punter) and basketball (point guard) in addition to baseball. Scouts loved his bat, and one said he had the second-best hitting approach in the region, behind only Marlins first-rounder Jeremy Hermida. He wasn't committed to a four-year college and thus was considered an easy sign.

As it turned out, Jones felt a little more comfortable staying close to home and attending Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College than signing immediately. Negotiations with the Royals weren't acrimonious and Kansas City should be able to sign him as a draft-and-follow next spring.

As for Obrey, of course no amateur player would hire an agent. They're all advisers (wink, wink). I won't profess to know who "advised" Obrey, but he has returned to Brigham Young as a redshirt junior. Obrey played in just 10 games in 2002 because he had bulging disks in his lower back, and he probably figured he'd have more bargaining power if he puts together a full, healthy season. He hit .381-13-56 as a sophomore in 2001.

October 9, 2002

I fared worse than Miguel Tejada did in the first round of the postseason, whiffing on all four of my picks for the Division Series. But I'll take another crack at it with the Championship Series. I'll opt for the Twins in seven games in the American League (hey, it's not my fault they played a game already before Ask BA was due) and the Giants in six games in the National League.

And because I'm going on vacation for a couple of weeks—which means no Ask BA until October 30—I'll have to submit my World Series pick early. I'll go with Minnesota in seven games again. I can't wait to see if Carl Pohlad will refuse to accept the trophy because it might drive his insurance premiums up or something.

    I haven't heard much of anything about the top hitters in the 2002 draft, with the exception of James Loney. I know this was a weak class of hitters, but with the help of four months of hindsight, what can you tell us now? Do you think there are any potential middle-of-the-lineup hitters? Who would rank as the top three hitters in this draft in terms of major league ceiling? Which three do you think are closest to the majors?

    Jeremy Haber
    Atlanta

It wasn't a good draft for hitters, especially at the college level. In terms of positions, catchers and true shortstops were particularly thin.

If we're talking ceiling, then I'm going to focus on guys who will provide power and average. Devil Rays shortstop B.J. Upton was the No. 2 pick and has obvious all-star potential, but that doesn't mean he'll be one of the top three hitters to come out of the 2002 draft. For sheer production, I would take Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder (first round) and Dodgers first baseman Loney (first) as the obvious first two choices, and put Diamondbacks shortstop Sergio Santos (first) behind them. Santos, who almost certainly will switch positions, rates just ahead of Braves outfielder Jeff Francouer (first), Indians third baseman Matt Whitney (supplemental first) and Devil Rays outfielder Wes Bankston (fourth).

Padres shortstop Khalil Greene's (first) makeup and instincts are so good—and he can hit a little, too—that he should be the first position player from this draft to reach the majors. Don't rule out him arriving as a shortstop either, because San Diego still has a hole at that position. Blue Jays shortstop Russ Adams (first) should pass through the minors quickly as well, though as with Greene a lot of scouts believe he may have to move to second base, which would mean Orlando Hudson would pose a roadblock in Toronto. My third choice is the surprise of the supplemental first round, both at getting picked that high and then at how he performed, Athletics catcher Jeremy Brown.

    Though no one ever has confused me with Charlie Lau (or even Mickey Hatcher or Richie Hebner), I'm a little puzzled by the questions about Hee Seop Choi's ability to handle inside fastballs and by scouts wondering if he's just a mistake hitter. I went through some old BAs to check out the Top 10 lists for the Cubs entering 2000 and 2001. Both scouting reports mention that his swing is compact. A short stroke doesn't automatically translate into handling inside heat well, but it would seem to me that it isn't generally an attribute one would expect in a mistake hitter who has problems handling inside fastballs. Because of the thankfully departed Bruce Kimm, I haven't had much of a chance to actually watch Choi, but the little I did seemed to follow the past scouting reports rather than what I read in your most recent chat transcript and your Pacific Coast League Top 20 Prospects list. As you said, handling inside heat and being a mistake hitter aren't necessarily going to prevent Choi from being a quality player, but I'm just a little puzzled by the current analysis of him. Thoughts?

    Shannon Jaronik
    Chicago

I wrote the Cubs Top 10 list in 2001 (and ever since), as well as the current PCL Top 20, so I've followed Choi closely for a while. This talk that he has trouble with good fastballs in on his hands has persisted for the last two-plus years, and the scouts and many of the PCL managers I talked to recently still believe that. That doesn't mean Choi won't learn to adjust, and some PCL observers said he cheats with his approach at times, looking for inside heat in order to cope with it better. Choi has had so much success in the minors that I'll be surprised if he doesn't enjoy more of the same in Chicago, even if it doesn't happen overnight.

When we present our various prospect rankings, we're not trying to make every guy sound like a future superstar. We try to detail each player's strengths and weaknesses. The majority of the people who saw Choi this year, at least the ones I talked to, think he can be pounded inside and wonder how he'll fare against quality pitching. We'll have to see how it plays out.

    What's your impression of David Wright? He had a pretty decent year at low Class A Capital City, though not what I was expecting. He showed decent command of the strike zone with 76 walks but also had 114 strikeouts. He also showed excellent situational hitting (93 RBI) and good power (11 homers and 30 doubles). Can he get his strikeouts down and his batting average (.266) up enough to be the .300-30-100 player I read about when he was drafted?

    David Blum
    Great Neck, N.Y.

Absolutely. Wright is one of the better young hitters and best third-base prospects in the minor leagues. He played the entire season at age 19, and turned in a more-than-respectable performance in a full-season league. Power often is the last tool to develop, and having 43 extra-base hits as a teenager is a positive sign.

He's the best batting prospect in the Mets system—not the best position player; that would be Jose Reyes—and Wright should become the classic run producer teams want at third base. He'll need some time in the minors and may not reach Shea Stadium until the second half of 2005, but he'll be worth the wait.

    Since Jose Contreras defected to the United States, does this mean that he'll have to go through the draft, or will he be a free agent if he gains asylum? Will he have to wait until next June, or would there be a supplemental draft before then?

    Doug Miller
    New Orleans

Major League Baseball has yet to issue any kind of ruling on Contreras, perhaps because he has yet to declare his desire to enter pro ball. The 30-year-old righthander was considered the consensus best pitcher in Cuba and blanked the Orioles for eight innings in 1999, back in the days when the Orioles didn't resemble a Triple-A club.

If MLB stays consistent with how it has ruled in the past and Contreras seeks residency in the United States, then he would be subject to draft rules as they pertain to Americans and players at U.S. schools. He would be subject to the June draft, though I suspect Contreras would audition in an independent league before then. Had he defected to another country, like Danys Baez and Orlando Hernandez did, the precedent would have been there for Contreras to skip the draft and go on the open market. If he's granted asylum in the United States but seeks residency elsewhere, MLB will have an interesting decision on its hands.

October 2, 2002

Brian Smith from Pasadena, Calif., has a follow-up thought on why Clint Nageotte's ERA might have been unusually high given his other numbers this year, as discussed in the last September Ask BA. Writes Brian:

    I saw five or six of Nageotte's starts this year and I noticed in going back through my scorebooks that he tends to pitch lights out for about 70-80 pitches, then get hit hard. I asked a scout about this one night in Lake Elsinore and he said yes, Nageotte lacks stamina and tires in the middle innings. Even BA's Prospect Handbook makes note of this, although I suspect his early and mid-game ERAs aren't as drastically different for this past summer as they were in 2001.

In the low Class A Midwest League in 2001, Nageotte posted a 2.04 ERA through the first four innings of games, compared to 5.33 afterward. (I wrote the Mariners section of the Handbook, but had forgotten all about that.) I checked Nageotte's numbers, and this trend didn't continue in the high Class A California League in 2002.

Nageotte's ERA through four innings was 4.50; afterward, it was 4.61. Interestingly, his worst ERA in any inning came in the first (6.28), then dropped to 3.87 for innings two through four. His overall 4.54 ERA despite averaging 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings still strikes me as more fluky than anything else, though Nageotte does need to throw more strikes and avoid running up big pitch counts early.

    I'm reading the Top 20 Prospects for each league (I love this feature) and one of the issues that always comes up in trying to prepare for my minor league roto draft is that the leagues aren't equal. Do you rate the leagues each year, in terms of how good their prospects are?

    Jim Schubert
    Milwaukee

In our current issue, we rate the leagues from one to five stars based on their quality and depth of prospects. The lone five-star league in 2002 was the low Class A South Atlantic. The SAL Top 20 started with blue-chip pitching prospects Gavin Floyd, John VanBenschoten and Macay McBride and ended with blue-chip pitching prospects Dustin McGowan, Seung Lee, Travis Foley and Phil Dumatrait. Besides all that mound talent, the SAL also featured hitters such as Andy Marte, Justin Huber and David Wright.

Only one other league got more than three stars: the low Class A Midwest. As opposed to the SAL, the cream of the MWL crop was hitters. Joe Mauer and Jason Stokes ranked 1-2, and other sluggers such as Brad Nelson, Casey Kotchman and Scott Hairston cracked the Top 10. There wasn't any shortage of pitchers, either, not with Dontrelle Willis, Donald Levinski and Mike Jones on hand.

Most of the leagues received two or three stars, with the Double-A Southern coming in last with just one. Mark Prior and Austin Kearns didn't spend enough time in the SL to make the list, and most of the younger stars were promoted quickly out of the league. Jake Peavy and Aaron Cook headed the Top 20, but the talent thinned out quickly after that, particularly among position players.

One thing to remember when looking at prospects for fantasy drafts is that it usually doesn't pay to wait three years for someone to help. Mauer very well may be the top talent in the minor leagues, but he's unlikely to contribute to your fantasy team until 2005. You're generally better off focusing on Double-A and Triple-A players.

    I swore I'd never be one of those people who whines that a hometown prospect didn't make the Top 20 Prospects list for his league. That said, how does the Phillies' Anderson Machado make the list in the high Class A Florida State League last year, then go out and play major league defense, steal 40 bases and improve his power numbers in Double-A, all while being one of the youngest players in his league—and not make the Eastern League Top 20?

    Kevin Corcoran
    Philadelphia

Machado had a nice season for a 21-year-old in Double-A, but he wasn't exactly a slam-dunk choice for the Top 20. Kevin points out his high points, though I'd question the "major league defense" when Machado made 28 errors in 124 games at short. He did show more pop and get on base more than he did in the past, but he also hit .251 with a .353 on-base percentage and a .398 slugging percentage. Machado is a talented prospect with a high ceiling, but he's still a ways from reaching it yet.

Andrew Linker, who wrote our EL Top 20, said that managers and scouts were more enamored of the pitchers in the EL than they were of the hitters. Andrew said that beyond the obvious top three (Jose Reyes, Brandon Phillips, Freddy Sanchez), John Peralta was considered the next-best shortstop prospect in the EL. Behind him were Machado and Ed Rogers. Machado likely would have made an EL Top 30 had we gone that deep.

    Detroit, Tampa Bay and Milwaukee ended up with the worst records in the major leagues. If the draft were held now, whom do you think each team would pick with their first selection?

    Brian Harris
    Tigerton, Wis.

I've been getting a lot of questions asking who will get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft after the Devil Rays and Tigers tied for last place in the American League (it's the AL's turn to pick first) at 55-106. In that case, the team with the worst record the previous season goes first, and Tampa Bay went 62-100 in 2001 to Detroit's 66-96. So the 2003 draft will begin with the Devil Rays, Brewers and Tigers, in that order.

For the most part, teams at the top of the draft will pick the best available player, regardless of organization strengths or weaknesses. The conundrum that faces Tampa Bay, however, is that its one strength is an abundance of outfield prospects—which also happens to be the strength of the 2003 draft. The consensus top prospect, Florida high schooler Lastings Milledge plays in the outfield, as do the Nos. 2-4 high school prospects (California's Delmon Young, Florida's Ryan Harvey and Pennsylvania's Chris Lubanski) and two of the three best college prospects (Southern's Rickie Weeks and Tulane's Michael Aubrey).

Milledge is so highly regarded that he could have gone No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft had he been eligible as a junior. Right now, I believe the Devil Rays would take Milledge. But I'd also bet they're privately hoping that a pitcher really emerges between now and next June. The best arm at this point is Wake Forest righthander Kyle Sleeth. Weeks looked better at second base with Team USA this summer, so he might not be limited to the outfield. But I still think Tampa Bay would pop Milledge.

The Brewers and Tigers need help all over the place, so they'll just take whoever sits atop their draft board when their pick comes up. At this point, I'll send Young to Milwaukee and Weeks to Detroit.

Of course, all this will change drastically between now and next June. If I had projected the top three picks in the 2002 draft eight months ahead of time, I could have had Bobby Brownlie going to the Pirates, Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays and Jason Neighborgall to the Reds. None of those guys went before 15th overall, for a variety of reasons.

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