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By Jim Callis
September 27, 2002
Better late than never, I guess. The league Top 20 Prospects lists took a lot out of me, as did my first cold of the new school season. That's a roundabout way of saying I'm sorry for being two days late with Ask BA this week.
The Division Series will have started by the time next week's Ask BA appears, so I'd better get my first-round predicitions on record. I'll go with the matchups as they would be today.
As much as I'd love to see the Twins (except for Carl Pohlad) win the World Series, I believe the Athletics will take them out in four games. The gritty Angels will extend the Yankees to five games, but New York will squeeze on through into the Championship Series.
Strange as it may sound, I find myself rooting for Barry Bonds to have a huge postseason and maybe even win his first championship. Alas, the Braves' pitching depth will carry them by the Giants in no more than four games. And I don't see the Cardinals beating Randy Johnson (I'd give him the Cy Young Award) and Curt Schilling twice; Diamondbacks in four.
Before we get to today's questions, Dale Carriger, who proposed the Athletics-Devil Rays hypothetical trade that kicked off the last Ask BA, checked in with a tongue-in-cheek Top 10 list of why his deal would help Oakland:
One more thing. I'm getting a lot of questions about our Top 20 lists, and I covered several of them in a chat earlier today. I'll try to track down the writer of the league in question and let him explain his reasoning.
I noticed that John Santor didn't make the Top 20 list for the NY-P. He'd certainly not been on my radar before this year, but he seems really to have taken off. He's only 20, which is not old for that league. What do you make of him? Has he learned something about hitting or is it the second-time-around-the-league phenomenon?
I was more than a little surprised that John Santor didn't make the NY-P Top 20. All he did was lead the league in RBIs (62), extra-base hits (38), doubles (24) and slugging percentage, while finishing second in homers (13) and batting .293. It was his second year in the league, but he's still only 20. What about him doesn't project well for the future?
Before we get started with these types of questions, which will probably carry us through a few Ask BAs, let me point out that just because a guy doesn't make a Top 20, it doesn't mean he's not a prospect and/or that we don't like him. In this case, the NY-P has 14 teams, and competition for spots on the list is fierce in a 14-team league. (Believe me, after I just completed the 16-team Pacific Coast League and 14-team Midwest League. There were players of Top 20 caliber that just didn't find their way onto those lists.)
Josh Boyd, who wrote that list, says there was almost no buzz about Santor in the NY-P. New Jersey manager Tommy Shields, who had him on his club, noted that he had really made some strides but was in his third year of short-season ball. No other manager in the league mentioned Santor as a top prospect.
After these questions started coming in, Josh checked with a team to get its scouting report on Santor. That club didn't view Santor as a prospect, grading him with below-average bat speed and athleticism, and the same as far as his standard five tools. He has improved after batting a combined .216 in his first two seasons, but he also struck out 62 times in 239 at-bats this year.
What observers essentially were saying is that while Santor wasn't old for the NY-P and had a productive season, they aren't banking on him being able to carry that success to higher levels. When Michael Cuddyer repeated the Eastern League in 2001 and had a big year, it was still noteworthy because it came in Double-A. But when a player repeats a short-season league, that's not the same thing.
And contrary to what Lou claimed, our NY-P Top 20 didn't have lots of guys who played in the league last season. Just three players on the list had NY-P experience: No. 6 Chien-Ming Wang, who played there in 2000 and missed all of last year with a shoulder injury; No. 11 Robinson Cano, who had all of two games there in 2001; and No. 20 Roberto Novoa.
Nageotte did have a strange statistical line. He topped the minors with 214 strikeouts in 165 innings and his ratio of 11.70 whiffs per nine innings trailed only Jesse Foppert (11.74). Nageotte didn't give up a lot of homers (10) and while his control was less than perfect (68 walks), he wasn't exactly Jacob Shumate. Opponents batted .240 against him.
I think, more than anything, Nageotte's 4.54 ERA was quirky. Of the 233 runners he allowed to reach base, 101 scored (83 were earned runs), and that's just out of whack.
Baseball HQ's Ron Shandler tracks a stat he calls Strand Rate, the equation for which is (H + BB + ER) / (H + BB - HR). Most pitchers have a Strand Rate of 70-75 percent, and those with high or low rates one year tend to come back to the pack the next season. In other words, the skill of stranding runners or the lack thereof doesn't really exist. It's generally luck.
Now for the quick math . . . Nageotte's Strand Rate was 65 percent. With a more normal rate of, say, 72 percent, his ERA would have been 3.77 in a league where the average was 4.32.
While I had the calculator out, I decided to check something else. Last year, a guy named Voros McCracken published some research that concluded there's little difference among major league pitchers in preventing hits on balls put in play (i.e., at-bats that don't result in homers and strikeouts). The big league average is roughly 30 percent, figured with the equation (H - HR) / ((IP x 2.82) + H - K - HR). As with Strand Rates, pitchers who deviate greatly from the norm one year usually return to it the next.
In any case, 36 percent of balls put in play against Nageotte became hits, as compared to 35 percent of those against his San Bernardino as a whole, and 32 percent for the entire high Class A California League. That seems to indicate bad luck or bad defense or both affecting Nageotte.
I don't believe anyone ever has researched how applicable Strand Rates or percentages of hits on balls in play apply to the minors, but I don't see why they wouldn't be. In any case, it appears that Nageotte's high ERA was a fluke rather than indicating some flaw in his game.
Josh Boyd also did the FSL Top 20, so we'll again turn to him for an explanation. This time, I'll let him tell you in his own words:
Harris didn't make Top 20, but it wasn't really for a lack of support. The problem was who do you bump to make room for him? You'd probably start at the bottom of the list, right?
So let's look at No. 20 Nook Logan first, because the support he received actually surprised me a bit. But managers were overwhelmed by his tools, and he profiles as a potential top-of-the-order threat who can play center field. He has a ways to go, but he is definitely a scout's player. You can read the comments and see how he was compared to Kenny Lofton.
Frankly, I wouldn't bump No. 19 Jason Arnold, because he has the potential to become a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a back-of-the-bullpen reliever. He has a polished repertoire and he had success in Double-A after being traded.
No. 18 Ruddy Lugo was another surprise to me, a guy I didn't anticipate having on my Top 20. But it's kind of hard to ignore him when two different managers from other teams called him the best pitcher in the league, right alongside Francisco Rosario and Taylor Buchholz.
Getting back to Harris, there's no question he had a breakthrough year worth of prospect status. His position remains somewhat of a question after he split time between second and third this year at Daytona. He did impress managers enough in a midseason poll to credit him as the league's best defensive third baseman. He's a competitive player with good all-around athletic ability.
The FSL was tough to narrow down to 20 prospects, as I mentioned in my intro. Dominic Rich, Matt Ford, Todd Wellemeyer, Brandon Watson and Will Smith all have big league potential and were right on the cusp of making the list. The bottom line is the guys who did received more support from managers and scouts than those who didn't.
I'll add one thing, because it came up in a few chat questions I didn't respond to this afternoon. Just because a guy get the "best defense" citation in our Best Tools surveys doesn't mean he's slick with the glove. I remember talking to the Athletics after Eric Chavez was named best third baseman in the Cal League, and they thought he was below average defensively. I think the manager's picks resemble big league Gold Glove selections, which sometimes go to the guy who's the best player (read: hitter) at his position rather than the best defender, if there's no one who stands out as dazzling with the glove.
September 18, 2002
I like the wild card, so don't misinterpret what I'm about to write. But why all the excitement about the Angels-Athletics battle? It's not like the Dodgers and Giants, only one of whom will advance to the postseason. Anaheim and Oakland are compelling teams, but they're both going to make the playoffs. And home-field advantage isn't that big a deal, except in the ticket office.
Dale's general observations are dead on. As we noted in our last issue, the Devil Rays are loaded with outfield prospects, while the Athletics' biggest strength in the minors is pitching. Conversely, Tampa Bay could use some arms and Oakland is light in outfielders.
But this proposed trade never would work, at least not from the A's standpoint. Harden, Rheinecker and Wood, along with Jason Arnold, are arguably the best prospects in the Oakland system. While there isn't an apparent vacancy in the big league rotation, some of those guys could help the A's as long relievers in 2003. If Crawford, Baldelli and Hamilton are assumed to be untouchable, then the only outfielder Tampa Bay has who's ready to contribute in the near future would be Winn. Also, outfielders are usually more plentiful than pitchers.
His All-Star Game berth notwithstanding, Winn probably is playing over his head and he's doesn't have the on-base emphasis that the A's always seek. And while Long can be shaky in center field, Winn isn't a Gold Glover. He would be an upgrade but I don't see him as a difference-maker in Oakland. Furthermore, he's arbitration-eligible and due for a hefty raise from his current $960,000 salary.
The A's might have minor interest in Winn, but I can't imagine at a very high cost. And one thing to beware when you're answering a phone call from Oakland GM Billy Beane: The A's do many things well, and one of them is knowing when to cut bait on a young player. Shortly after being dealt by Oakland, guys like Ben Grieve, Jose Ortiz and Mario Ramos took a sudden downturn. Angel Berroa and Jesus Colome have had extremely disappointing 2002 performances as well.
Woodland Hills, Calif.
Broxton's weight did turn off some teams. In our Draft Preview, I wrote, "He's 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, is thick throughout his body and looks more like a tight end than a pitcher. If he gets much bigger, Broxton could have trouble repeating his delivery and throwing strikes."
The 18-year-old righthander had little trouble in his pro debut, however. One of the youngest pitchers in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, Broxton went 2-0, 2.76, limiting hitters to a .212 average and posting a 33-16 strikeout-walk ratio in 29 innings. He consistently threw 94-95 mph with his fastball and worked on his curveball, slider and changeup. He still has weight and command issues, yet he's off to a nice start.
The Bonser comparison is solid in that there were similar concerns about him coming out of the draft, he has the same kind of heat and he still must improve his control. Bonser's repertoire is more well-rounded and he's in better shape than Broxton. The biggest difference between the two is that Bonser projects as a starter, while Broxton looks more like a closer.
Robert W. Townsend
As for the first question, the Astros were five games back on August 22 when they traded for Gordon. Though it doesn't seem like much, a five-game lead that late in the season almost always will hold up. So in that regard, dealing for Gordon and then picking up Mark Loretta nine days later might have been foolish.
However, Houston didn't give up any can't-miss players to get Gordon and Loretta. The best pitcher in the Gordon trade is low Class A lefthander Russ Rohlicek, who has a live arm and has made strides with his control. Nannini, a 1998 supplemental first-round pick, has lost some velocity and lacks a true out pitch. Anderson, a 1999 second-rounder, offers plenty of velocity but little consistency or command.
The only guys mentioned above who were once rated very highly by the Astros were Nannini and Rodriguez, who regressed terribly after we ranked him as the system's No. 1 prospect entering 2000. Even when Ginter won the Double-A Texas League MVP award that year, there were defensive questions about him that he has yet to resolve. Wesson's ceiling always has been as an extra outfielder. Outside of Rohlicek, who's still a few years from the majors, these players project more as complementary types rather than as frontliners.
September 13, 2002
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Baseball America is heading into prospect season, starting with the league Top 20 list we'll have in the issue we've just started working on. After that, we'll have Draft Report Cards and organization Top 10s, leading up to the 2003 Prospects Handbook and the overall Top 100 Prospects list. It's my favorite stuff to work on and for a lot of you, your favorite stuff to read.
The bad news is that because of all the work that goes into producing that stuff, Ask BA will shift to a once-a-week schedule next week. Look for Ask BA every Wednesday.
I don't see how the Giants could be blamed for those pitchers failing to develop with other teams. In any case, the common factor among all of them was injuries. Barcelo required Tommy John surgery, Bump and Fontenot had shoulder operations, and Grilli needed an elbow procedure. All were legitimate prospects, yet they also point out the risk with young arms: a lot of them get hurt on the way to the majors, let alone stardom.
Yet still there's plenty of reason to get excited about the Giants' current crop of pitching prospects. We've discussed these guys a lot in Ask BA and in Josh Boyd's Prospect Hot Sheets and Scouting Departments throughout the year, so I'm not going to go into a detailed breakdown of all six pitchers. I will, however, toss Francisco Liriano into the discussion and also mention that San Francisco's depth extends well beyond this group.
In terms of pure ceiling, I'd rank them in this order: Foppert, Liriano, Bonser, Hannaman, Williams, Ainsworth, Lowry. Balancing their ceiling and their likelihood of reaching it (including general health and how far they've advanced), I'd sort them like this: Foppert, Ainsworth, Williams, Bonser, Liriano, Hannaman, Lowry. The Giants have as much quality minor league pitching as anyone.
James E. Richards
I overlooked Ziegler, probably because he was drafted this year, though I didn't forget Western Michigan lefthander Pat Misch. Ziegler belonged in that group as well and projects to go somewhere between the fifth and 10th round in 2003 based on talent. Seniors often go a little higher than they might otherwise because they have less leverage and are thus cheaper.
Ziegler's best attribute is that he has plus command of four pitches. He has an 86-91 mph fastball, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. He's very tough on righthanders because he can throw his fastball, slider and change from a variety of arm angles. He has been somewhat overshadowed by John Rheinecker (an Oakland supplemental first-rounder in 2001) and Zimmerman (who projects to go at about the same time in 2003), but Ziegler has led the Bears in victories in each of the last two seasons. He also gets high marks for his mound presence.
Barrett hasn't popped up on the draft radar as an early pick for 2003 yet. Many organizations don't like short righthanders (though the Astros have had success with several), so he might have to prove himself in college before going high in the draft.
As with Ziegler, O'Riordan's game is greater than the sum of his individual tools. Because he's only 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, O'Riordan wasn't recruited heavily out of high school yet made Stanford as a walk-on. In his last three years with the Cardinal, he was one of the club's best hitters and a key reason they finished second, second and third in three consecutive College World Series.
An eighth-round pick of the Rangers, the 22-year-old second baseman spent most of his first pro summer at Rookie-level Pulaski. Granted, the Appalachian League isn't the toughest challenge for someone who has handled the highest levels of college baseball, but O'Riordan tore it up. He hit .370-3-24 in 48 games, stole 14 bases in 17 attempts, led the league in on-base percentage (.495) while finishing second in the batting race, and also slugged .526. He also did well after a late-season promotion to low Class A Savannah.
O'Riordan doesn't have an above-average tool but he does a lot of things well enough. He makes consistent contact, draws walks, can steal a base despite average speed, can sting the ball more than expected and is a very steady second baseman (he made just five errors in 57 pro games). He's the type of player who constantly will be projected as a utilityman, but it would be a mistake to discount his heart. O'Riordan overachieved during his college career, and he could do the same as a pro, following in the footsteps of Craig Counsell, David Eckstein and Mark Ellis.
September 10, 2002
Rocco Baldelli isn't the first Minor League Player of the Year to win the award after a humble minor league beginning, but he's one of the few. Jose Canseco (1985) and Tim Salmon (1992) were similarly athletically gifted outfielders who like Baldelli hadn't put everything together before their breakthrough seasons. The two most obscure winners at the time were Derek Bell (1991) and Jon Rauch (2000).
I'll expound on this subject in a column in our upcoming issue.
Why should the Pirates sign Bryan Bullington? Under the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams that fail to sign their first-round pick get a supplemental pick in the next draft, but the kicker is that the pick will be right after their unsigned pick rather than after the first round is complete. If Pittsburgh doesn't sign Bullington, who by all accounts is a good prospect but not at the usual level of a No. 1 overall pick, they get the second pick in the entire draft in 2003, plus their own pick, which would be the eighth pick if the season ended today. From reading Baseball America's coverage, I've concluded that 2003 looks like the year of the high-ceiling high school hitter, which is precisely what the Pirates need desperately. Why shouldn't they forget Bullington, draft Delmon Young or Lastings Milledge or even Adam Loewen with the second overall pick in 2003, then take the best college pitcher available with their regular pick. This way the Bucs get 98 percent of Bullington's talent at 50-60 percent of the cost, plus the second-best player in the country in a deep draft. What do you think?
Alan Schwarz has been working on a story about the draft ramifications of the agreement between the players and owners, which I discussed in the September 3 Ask BA. He reports that it's highly unlikely that the compensation for failing to sign a first-round pick will be applied retroactively. It really wouldn't be fair otherwise, because the rules and Bullington's leverage would suddenly changeas they will for future first-rounders.
If the rule took effect immediately, the Pirates probably would be better off doing exactly as Joel suggests. Bullington isn't considered on a par with the top picks in the 2001 draft, and Pittsburgh would likely wind up with a better prospect with the second choice in 2003. Picking eighth, it's also very possible they could get a college pitcher with talent comparable to Bullington.
One minor correction to Ron's supposition, though: When a team fails to sign a draft pick, the player must give the club permission to take him in a subsequent draft. If Bullington couldn't come to terms with the Pirates this time, he wouldn't want to have to deal with them again in 2003.
And to clarify something I brought up two Ask BAs ago, Alan says that the union was willing to relinquish compensatory draft picks for free agents, but only if it could continue to have a say in the draft rules. So don't expect NBA-style bonus slotting any time in the near future.
Bullington and Hagerty went first (Pirates) and 32nd (Cubs), respectively in this year's draft. The region also produced Purdue's Chadd Blasko, the 36th overall pick by the Cubs. That's three college pitchers before the second round, all from Indiana schools. I'll assume Steve is curious about college arms from the upper Midwest, so I won't delve further south than Kansas or Missouri.
The best college pitching prospect from that region in 2003 is Southwest Missouri State righthander Bob Zimmerman, who right now projects to go about as high as Hagerty or Blasko did. Zimmerman, who spent the summer with Team USA, has the size (6-foot-5, 228 pounds) and fastball (94-95 mph) that pro teams covet. His command is iffy and he's still developing his offspeed pitches, but he can be very nasty when he maintains his release point from a low three-quarters arm angle.
Michigan righthander Jim Brauer was one of the better pitchers this summer in the Cape Cod League, where he tossed a 14-strikeout no-hitter. He's projectable at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds. Brauer doesn't have a dominant pitch at this point, but he can throw four for strikes: 90-91 mph fastball, plus changeup, curveball and slider. His stuff should get better as his body matures. He's a likely second- or third-rounder.
Other college pitching prospects from the upper Midwest include Nebraska lefthander Aaron Marsden and Creighton lefty Tom Oldham, both of whom have solid fastballs and fine control; Missouri sophomore-eligible righty Justin James, who has a plus fastball and clean arm action, and was a sixth-round pick out of high school by the Red Sox; and Wichita State southpaw David Sanders, who consistently showed a plus changeup and curveball on the Cape this summer.
Western Michigan lefthander Pat Misch has returned for his senior season after failing to sign with the Astros as a fifth-round pick. The Broncos' career strikeout leader, Misch has a plus curveball and extremely smooth mechanics.
Notre Dame sophomore-eligible righthander/shortstop Matt Macri would have been a 2001 first-round pick had he not been so committed to the Fighting Irish. Though he prefers playing every day, a lot of scouts though his upside was higher as a pitcher. He threw 92-94 mph and showed a hard slider in high school, but he never took the mound as a freshman before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery in April. If he's healthy and can get enough mound time on a very talented Irish staff, he could be a very early pick in 2003.
An aside: The email address that came with this question corresponds to one of the pitchers I just mentioned. I'm not sure if he used his alias or one of his buddies used his email account, but maybe he'll come clean.
I'm currently working on our Pacific Coast League Top 20 Prospects list. Quinlan won't make the Top 20, in part because it's a 16-team league which makes for a lot of qualified players, but he's one of the favorite sleeper prospects in the PCL.
A 1999 10th-round pick out of the University of Minnesota, Quinlan started his pro career by winning the MVP award in the short-season Northwest League. He's a solid hitter who uses the whole field, and he has shown increased power the last two years. He excels at putting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He's not much of a defensive player in the outfield, but he runs OK.
Quinlan isn't a can't-miss prospect, and as Larry notes he's not especially young. But he should be able to help the Angels at least as a fourth outfielder, and he also could play first base or fill in sporadically at third base.
September 6, 2002
As I was writing this, I got my daily email of Kevin Goldstein's Prospect Report, a daily compilation of minor league box score highlights. Toward the bottom, in the Rookie-level Pioneer League playoff section, this line caught my eye:
Q.Cosby CF 5 0 3 2 .600 - 2B; excellent leadoff skills
It had been a while since I had thought about Quan Cosby. I remembered writing him up for our 2001 Draft Preview, noting that baseball was his third-best sport at the time. He had been the Texas 2-A football offensive player of the year and an all-state quarterback/defensive back/kick returner in 2000, when he accounted for 48 touchdowns. One of the best athletes in the 2001 football recruiting class, he accepted a scholarship from the University of Texas, and the Longhorns were going to make him a wide receiver. The month before the 2001 draft, he won Texas 2-A titles in the 100 meters (10.46 seconds) and 200 meters (21.31). Scouts compared his speed to an in-his-prime Deion Sanders, but also noted that Cosby was a long-term project.
The Angels took Cosby in the sixth round, and he gave up football in return for an $850,000 bonus. When he hit .243 with five extra-base hits and nine walks in 41 Rookie-level Arizona League games last summer, I already began to wonder if he was going to wind up on the scrap heap of exceptional athletes/poor baseball players. And I didn't notice him at all in 2002.
But Kevin's phrase "excellent leadoff skills" piqued my interest. I checked the numbers, and lo and behold Cosby hit .302 at Provo this year and drew 45 walks for a fine .404 on-base percentage. He also scored 66 runs in 71 games and stole 22 bases in 26 tries. He's still not hitting for power (.361 slugging percentage), but he batted .374 and scored 32 times in his final 33 regular-season games. Cosby made astounding progress this year and I'll keep a better eye on him now.
Stephen C. Smith
Because Stephen posed an interesting question, I'll plug his fine website, FutureAngels.com. He certainly has a lot more quality prospects to write about these days than he did three years ago.
I suspect Stephen is particularly curious about the Angels' relationship with high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, the only one of Anaheim's six affiliations that could change. Looking back two years ago, the odds are plainly clear that once the divorce papers do get filed, the chances of reconciliation are very small.
Just seven of the 37 PDCs (19 percent) that were up for grabs resulted in a renewal of the previously existing affiliation. Here's the breakdown by classification:
For the record, the relationships that were preserved were in Calgary (Marlins), Fresno (Giants) and Ottawa (Expos) in Triple-A; Visalia (Athletics) in high Class A; Greensboro (Yankees) in low Class A; Spokane (Royals) at the short-season level; and Medicine Hat (Blue Jays) in Rookie ball. This year, Fresno, Ottawa, Visalia, Greensboro and Spokane are again up in the air.
Barnett doesn't merit being mentioned in the same breath as Colby Lewis, Joaquin Benoit and Ben Kozlowski yet, but he had an impressive debut after signing as a sixth-round pick in June. His development is especially welcome because the Rangers didn't have a draft choice between first-rounder Drew Meyer and Barnett.
A 21-year-old righthander, Barnett pitched Florida Southern to the NCAA Division II World Series this year with an MVP performance at the South Regional. He throws four pitches for strikes, with his two best offerings being a 91-93 two-seam fastball and a slider. There's not a lot of projection left in him because he's a 6-foot-2, 190-pound college draftee, but his stuff, command and competitiveness are good enough to possibly take him to the majors.
In 13 appearances between Rookie-level Pulaski, low Class A Savannah and high Class A Charlotte, Barnett went 3-1, 1.94 with a 37-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 57 innings. Opponents managed to hit just .171 with three homers against him.
Wow, hadn't heard Tony Barron's name in quite a while.
Allen is a decent prospect, and Pacific Coast League managers and scouts have been impressed by the adjustments he made this year after spending three seasons in Double-A. The 24-year-old former third baseman, who signed as a nondrafted free agent out of a Georgia high school in 1996, also was ranked the best defensive outfielder and had one of the strongest outfield arms in the PCL.
While the Dodgers are battling for the National League wild card, I think the main reason they didn't promote Allen is that they didn't want to totally decimate a Las Vegas club that had the best regular-season record in the PCL at 85-59. Los Angeles already called up the heart and soul of the 51s, second baseman Joe Thurston, as well as their catcher (David Ross) and center fielder (Wilkin Ruan), the PCL saves leader (Jeff Williams) and the starter with the best winning percentage in the Vegas rotation (Kevin Beirne). Allen is on the 40-man roster, and I suspect he'll get called up when the PCL playoffs end.
September 3, 2002
I've never understood the sense in expanding major league rosters from 25 to 40 in September, but nevertheless it's always fun getting a sneak preview of coming attractions. Among the players I'm looking forward to seeing are White Sox outfielder Joe Borchard, Cubs first baseman Hee Seop Choi, Astros righthander Brad Lidge (he was up briefly earlier this year), Dodgers second baseman Joey Thurston and Marlins righthander Justin Wayne.
And, of course, a hearty "Welcome back!" to Salomon Torres. The erstwhile Giants phenom, who once was traded to the Mariners for Shawn Estes, is making his first big league appearance since 1997 with a start tonight against the Braves.
The agreement between the players and owners contains three provisions that will have an effect on the draft:
1. Both sides will form a committee that will try to finalize a worldwide draft for June 2003. Among the issues the committee will have to resolve are the number of rounds, which figures to fall between 20 (the players' proposal) and 38 (the owners' counter), down from the current 50 in the domestic draft. The committee also will decide whether teams should be permitted to trade draft picks and whether clubs' negotiating rights to different classes of players will change. As I discussed in the July 23 Ask BA, I believe a worldwide draft will cause more problems than it will solve. I'm for the trading of draft picks, though it will lead to agents blackmailing teams into dealing high-priced prospects to the larger-revenue teams unless mandatory bonus slotting is instituted.
2. Team that fail to sign their first-round pick no longer will get a supplemental first-round pick the following year. Instead, they will get a bonus first-round pick immediately following the overall selection corresponding to the player they failed to sign. In other words, should the Orioles not come to terms with 2002's No. 4 overall pick, Adam Loewen, they'll get an extra first-round pick following the fourth choice in 2003. This will allow teams to exert even more leverage when trying to sign first-rounders, an issue I tackled in the August 27 Ask BA. Teams are starting to hold their ground more than they have in the past, and this will help their cause.
3. The most important ramification for the draft is the elimination of compensation picks for the loss of quality (Type A, B or C) free agents. This means that once the joint committee resolves the issues mentioned above, the players could have no say in determining draft rules, which fall outside the Basic Agreement. This would allow owners to put in NBA-style mandatory bonus slotting without the union having to approve it. While the players as a whole would like to see draft bonuses reduced so more money would trickle up to them, they don't want to come out publicly in favor of restricting any kind of free market.
The highest ceiling belongs to Haren, who went 7-3, 1.95 with an 89-12 strikeout-walk ratio in 101 innings before getting promoted. A second-round pick in 2001 out of Pepperdine, the 21-year-old righthander has the best body (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and fastball (92-93 mph) of that trio. His curveball and changeup also have plus potential and just need to be more consistent, and he'll also mix in some sliders and splitters.
Pope, a University of Central Florida product who went one round earlier than Haren last year, missed some time after having bone chips removed from his elbow this year. Despite that setback, the 22-year-old righty still managed to go 8-1, 1.38 with a 72-12 K-BB ratio in 78 innings. Opponents hit just .174 against him. Pope isn't as big (6 feet, 185 pounds) and durable as Haren. He threw 91-92 mph this year but should be able to match Haren's velocity when he's fully healthy, and Pope's slider is better than Haren's breaking balls. He's a perfectionist who reminds Peoria manager Danny Sheaffer of Todd Stottlemyre.
Johnson has the size (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) and stuff to succeed in the majors, though he's not similar to the other two. He wasn't a high draft pick, taken in the 34th round in 2000 and signing a year later as a draft-and-follow after spending a second year at Moorpark (Calif.) JC. He's also lefthanded and his fastball has slightly below-average velocity, sitting in the high 80s. What he does have is a tremendous curveball that managers rated the best breaking ball in the MWL, and he tied for the league victory lead while going 15-3, 2.00 with a 132-42 K-BB ratio in 121 innings. His curveball moves so much that it's hard to catch, and Sheaffer says, "He may need to come up with another name for this thing. It's that wicked." He also gets a lot of movement on his fastball, making it plenty effective, and his changeup is an asset.
Three other Peoria pitchers to keep an eye on: lefthander Chris Narveson, the system's top pitching prospect until he needed Tommy John surgery at the end of last season; righthander Mike Wodnicki, a sleeper who always has worked in the shadows of bigger names at Stanford and Peoria; and righty reliever Jared Blasdell, whose slider gives him the chance to be a decent middle reliever down the road.
Seattle hasn't had a lot of things go right in the minor leagues this year, but the emergence of Castro is one of them. Just 19, he signed out of Colombia as a free agent in 1999. His performance, considering his age, the level he was at and the fact he was making his U.S. debut, is very encouraging.
Though he was one of the younger regulars in the Northwest League, he topped everyone in runs (55), hits (89), doubles (26) and extra-base hits (36) while ranking second in RBI (45) and slugging, plus fifth in batting. He was arguably the best hitter in the league. John Manuel, who's handling our NWL Top 20 Prospects list, also reports that he has good defensive skills and the only question managers really had about him was whether he's actually 19.
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