Top 25 Tracker (April 27)
1. LOUISIANA STATE Last Week: 3-1. Overall: 37-7, 14-6 in SEC (3-1 vs. Top 25). Weekend Series: 9-1. The showdown between No. 1 and No. 2 didn’t disappoint, with the […]
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By Jim Callis
April 29, 2003
Did anyone else notice that in the wake of Kevin Millwood's no-hitter, there was a rush in the media to defend Braves GM John Schuerholz for trading him to the Phillies? The general themes were that Schuerholz had to trade Millwood for financial reasons, Philadelphia was the only taker (and theoretically would have snapped Millwood up had Atlanta decided to nontender him) and Johnny Estrada will somewhat justify the deal by becoming the Braves' starting catcher in 2004.
Which is all bunk. If the Braves faced the possibility of a financial crunch if Greg Maddux accepted arbitration (which he did), they shouldn't have offered it to him. Given the choice between a 37-year-old Maddux at $14.75 million and a 28-year-old Millwood at $9.9 million, they should have taken Millwood. And they shouldn't have lavished big contracts on Vinny Castilla and Javy Lopez in the first place, but that's another matter.
After deciding they had to trade Millwood, the Braves shouldn't have panicked and made a bad impulse deal. They didn't have to start paying his salary in December, so why did they have to get rid of him then? If the White Sox were willing to pick up Bartolo Colon's $8.25 million salary, why wouldn't they have been willing to add Millwood? And because trading them to their strongest division rival was the worst-case scenario, why not just nontender him and hope someone else swooped in to sign him?
Despite Estrada's hot start at Triple-A Richmond, which earned him a promotion, I still see him as a .250 hitter with 10 homers a year. While defense is his strong suit, Estrada's performance never will justify this trade.
I just caught the last two innings of Jerome Williams' major league debut. Toward the end, he seemed to be working in the mid-80s and relying heavily on his curveball. Last year I read reports that his velocity was down, but I also read that he was throwing 90-93 mph in the Arizona Fall League. What's the story there? He wasn't able to blow one by Brandon Duckworth when he needed it.
It's too early to start getting worried about Foppert's velocity. He did sit in the mid-90s and top out at 99 last summer, and he hasn't been throwing that hard since joining the Giants. But it's very possible that, like a lot of pitchers arriving in the majors for the first time, Foppert may be trying too hard, subconsciously altering his mechanics and not getting the most out of his pitches. If that's the case, it's easy enough to correct. There's no inkling that there's something physically wrong with Foppert, so I'd chalk this up to a normal adjustment process. I saw the bulk of his first start against the Pirates, and though he gave up five runs in the first inning, he wasn't hit hard. He was more a victim of softly struck balls finding holes and becoming hits.
Williams did throw better in the AFL than he did in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last year, but for much of his career observers have wondered why his athleticism hasn't translated into better stuff. He has done an excellent job at holding his own while considerably younger than his league throughout his career in the minorsand he's still just 21but at the same time he rarely has dominated. As with Foppert, I wouldn't become alarmed based on Williams' big league debut. His velocity typically is average or slightly above average rather than overpowering, and his best pitch last year was his changeup.
As someone who's written our Astros Top 30 Prospects lists since our Prospect Handbook debuted in 2001, I share your enthusiasm for Burke and Whiteman. Burke ranked fifth and Whiteman ranked sixth on our list this year. Both struggled at Round Rock in 2002, when they would have been best served by starting the season in high Class A. The problem was that Houston didn't have a high Class A affiliate, so that wasn't a possibility. Whiteman got going again after a demotion to low Class A and starred in the Arizona Fall League, while Burke stayed in Double-A and posted mediocre numbers. Both have the opportunity to become solid big leaguers.
Burke, 23, was a first-round pick out of the University of Tennessee in 2001 and projects as the Astros' leadoff man of the future. He'll need to draw a few more walks to fit in that role, but he's an instinctive hitter who produces line drives and occasional power. He has plus speed and basestealing instincts. A former shortstop who is settling at second base, he has all the tools to excel defensively at that position. He's off to a .379 start with seven doubles and as many walks as strikeouts (nine) through 24 games.
Whiteman, also 23, was a sixth-round pick from Oklahoma University in 2000. The first pro athlete from the Crow Nation, he has at least average tools across the board. Compared to Burke, he has more power and less speed. He also hits for average but could stand to draw more walks. Defensively, his superior arm strength makes him more suited for shortstop than Burke. Whiteman is batting .337-3-17 with six walks and 13 strikeouts in 24 games.
The Astros are committed to Jeff Kent at least through 2004, so it will be a couple of years before we see a Burke-Whiteman double-play combination in Houston. But their progress thus far in 2003 is very encouraging in light of their struggles a year ago. The Astros have Eric Bruntlett at second base and Adam Everett at shortstop in Triple-A. If Burke and Whiteman keep hitting, they may merit a promotion at midseason.
La Jolla, Calif.
Bay hasn't attracted a lot of attention, probably because of the age factor Reginald mentioned plus his draft status. A 22nd-round pick from Gonzaga in 2000, he won the Midwest League batting title in his first full pro season with a .362 averagebut he also was old for low Class A at age 22. Promoted to the high Class A Florida State League at the end of 2001, he batted just .195.
That mean he still had something to prove in 2002, and prove it he did. Between high Class A and two Double-A stops, he hit .283-17-85 in 126 games while posting solid on-base (.375) and slugging (.470) percentages. Just before the season, the Expos, who haven't done a good job of evaluating their own minor league talent, traded him to the Mets as part of a deal for Lou Collier. In July, the Padres, who have done a fine job scouting other teams' prospects for trade purposes, got him from New York in a five-player swap for Steve Reed.
Another reason Bay hasn't been noticed more is that he does a lot of things well but nothing exceptionally well, so he hasn't stood out. Hitting for average (.300 entering 2003) has been his strong suit, but most of us realize now that batting average has been an overrated stat. He has more gap power than true home run power, his current rampage notwithstanding. He understands the value of a walk but doesn't draw an excessive amount. He has good speed, especially for a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, but isn't a blazer. He's capable of playing anywhere in the outfield and has a strong arm, but he's not a classic center fielder.
There's no reason Bay can't be a big league regular. That opportunity might not come with the Padres, who have Mark Kotsay, Xavier Nady, Phil Nevin and Rondell White ahead of him, but Bay is showing other organizations what he's capable of doing.
April 25, 2003
The Dodgers' 1998 draft was one of the worst of all time, but it finally produced its first big leaguer last June in catcher David Ross, who memorably homered off Mark Grace later in the season. Los Angeles' 1998 first-round pick, Bubba Crosby, never will become what the club hoped, but he might just make it to Chavez Ravine yet. Crosby, who's at Triple-A Las Vegas, currently leads the minors in batting (.441) and slugging (.898).
Two other amazing early-season performances, also from non-prospects:
Double-A Carolina righthander Sean Fesh leads the minors with six victories in 10 relief appearances. Fesh, a 61st-round pick in 1991, has played in the Astros, Padres, Mets, Phillies, Rockies, Pirates and Marlins systems. He also spent 2001 in the independent Atlantic League. He hasn't won six games in an entire season since 1993, when he went 10-6, 3.61 with 20 saves at low Class A Asheville.
Triple-A Louisville righthander Scott Randall, who went 14-0 last year in the Twins system, has extended his winning streak to 16 games with two more victories this year. He hasn't suffered a defeat since Aug. 24, 2001. Triple-A New Orleans righthander Kirk Saarloos won his first decision of 2003, running his streak to 13 in a row in the minors. He did go 6-7 in the majors with Houston last year.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Just to clarify, Stauffer isn't much more appealing than Sullivan. We've consistently rated Stauffer ahead of Sullivan when we've run our college prospect lists, but Sullivan usually has been right behind him. Similarly, I expect Stauffer to be drafted before Sullivan in June, but Sullivan easily could go with the very next pick. Both righthanders should go in the first 10 picks, and perhaps the top five.
Stauffer is listed bigger than Sullivan (6-foot-1, 190), but neither has a classic pitcher's build so that's not really a factor. Stauffer (7-1, 1.64, 97-7 K-BB ratio in 66 innings) has been more consistent than Sullivan (5-4, 2.10, 104-24 in 81) this spring. Both throw in the low 90s, though Stauffer pitches off his fastball better and has better life on it, as it sinks and bores in on righthanders. His pitchability is also superior, and at times his breaking ball and changeup are plus pitches.
Sullivan has better breaking stuff, and in fact throws both a slider and curveball. His slider is usually the better of those two pitches, though he used his curve to get the majority of his school record-tying 16 strikeouts against Saint Louis in his last start.
Guthrie was the 22nd overall pick in the 2002 draft, and was probably the safest pick among college pitchers. But he slid because of concerns about his signability, and his pro debut was delayed until this year after he held out all summer for a $4 million major league contract that included a $3 million bonus. Because he went on a Mormon mission in the middle of his college career, Guthrie is already 24.
With three plus pitches (fastball, slider, changeup), he'll get his share of strikeouts, but he's not a power pitcher. I wouldn't be too concerned about his strikeout totals through his first four pro starts. He's 2-0, 1.86 with 11 whiffs and six walks in 19 innings, and opponents are hitting .206 against him. His ceiling is as a No. 2 starter and he'll likely get his first taste of Cleveland sometime after the all-star break. Because he signed a major league contract, the Indians won't have to expend a precious 40-man roster spot when they decide to call him up.
Cabrera also signed for big money, a Venezuelan-record $1.9 million, when he turned pro in 1999. Unlike Guthrie, Cabrera got an early start on his pro career, making his minor league debut at 17. He has gotten better every year, and 2003 has been no exception despite the fact that he's one of the youngest players in Double-A at 20. He's hitting .390-3-25 through 21 games and has tightened his strike zone (eight walks, 10 strikeouts), which had been his biggest weakness in the past. He also has 10 more doubles after smacking 43 last year, and should have well above-average power as he matures.
Lowell actually won't be a free agent until after the 2004 season. If Cabrera spent a full season in Double-A this year and another in Triple-A in 2004, he'd be ready for the big leagues shortly before he turned 22. But if he keeps mashing the ball like this, he'll be ready by mid-2004. The Marlins always could trade Lowell this offseason, avoiding his arbitration price tag, and find a stopgap until Cabrera is ready next year.
Cotts, a 23-year-old lefthander who was a 2001 second-round pick out of Illinois State has won his first four starts for Birmingham. He has a 0.86 ERA, 30-14 K-BB ratio and .167 opponent average in 22 innings. He now has 286 strikeouts in 225 pro innings, though he usually doesn't exceed the high 80s with his fastball. Instead, he gets batters to swing and miss with his changeup and curveball. If he continues to excel, he could help the Sox late in the summer.
Valentine, a 26th-round find in 1999 from Jefferson Davis (Ala.) JC, tied the Southern League record with 36 saves in 2002. A 23-year-old righty, he has a 2.18 ERA at Triple-A Sacramento but hasn't pitched as well as that might indicate. Through he has eight strikeouts in as many innings, he also has allowed 15 baserunners (seven hits, eight walks). Valentine can reach the mid-90s and has a nasty slider. When he improves his command, there will be no reason to keep him in the minors.
There was one other minor leaguer in the deal: outfielder Daylon Holt, the 1999 NCAA Division I home run leader. A third-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2000, Holt never showed the plate discipline the A's demand before they traded him. He went 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts at Double-A Birmingham before the White Sox demoted him for a third stint in high Class A. He batted .296-3-10 in his first eight games at Winston-Salem.
April 22, 2003
Getting back to judging the best drafts ever by using Win Shares (see April 15, below), Ask BA reader Jay Levin (Philadelphia) emailed me to question that method. Here's the abridged version of his comments:
Many proven veterans hold on for an extra 3-8 years as a marginal player, racking up some 40 or so extra Win Shares in the process. These Win Shares don't make the career better in any respect. For the same reason, comparing drafts in this way rewards the draft with the largest number of players playing in games, with too little regard for how marginally they are performing.
For something quick and dirty, I think you might do better to assign a standard deduction of 4-5 Win Shares to every player-season. If Steve Ruskowski can re-run the draft total comparisons with this adjustment, I think the revised totals will confirm your initial, intuitive response that 1985 is the runaway winner.
Jay makes some interesting points, but I don't really agree with him. One of the things that separates Bill James' Win Shares from other valuation systems, such as Linear Weights, is that it recognizes that average or even replacement-level major leaguers do have value. A 6-8 Win Shares player has some value, though it's a fraction of a star's value. If a proven veteran hangs on at the end of his career, he still gets credit only for what he produces. And the truly marginal players who only get a cup of coffee get almost nothing in terms of Win Shares, so they aren't skewing the results.
Rating the drafts using Win Shares rewards them both for stars and for depth. I believe Jay is saying that 1985, which included Barry Bonds, Will Clark, Randy Johnson, Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro and John Smoltz, produced more stars than any other draft, and that strikes me as correct. But 1986 isn't lacking for stars (Kevin Brown, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Matt Williams) and has more than its share of players at the Moises Alou/Greg Vaughn level and several more at the Roberto Hernandez/Todd Zeile tier.
For more on this subject, check out my column in our upcoming issue. It should be online and/or in your mailbox by next week.
Our reports on Sborz have shown him with more velocity than you saw. Last week, he was clocked at 91-95 mph, his usual range, and was still popping 94s in the seventh inning. He has the live arm and body (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) that scouts look for, but he's raw in terms of his secondary pitches (slider, changeup) and command. He's more of a thrower than a pitcher right now.
Sborz never has projected as high as a top-five pick, but he's one of 10 or so high school players who have a chance to be taken in the first round. I think you'll see him go in the bottom half of the round, maybe in the 20-24 range that's populated by teams (Expos, Twins, Giants, Angels, Dodgers) that don't mind using early choices on high schoolers.
The Blue Jays have been high on Perkins since they signed him as a draft-and-follow out of Lake City (Fla.) CC in 2001. An 18th-round pick in 2000, he spent his first two pro years at short-season Auburn, posting two eye-popping numbers: 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a .208 opponent batting average.
Coming into 2002, Perkins' lack of command and an effective changeup led to some projections that he could become a John Wettelandesque closer with his mid-90s fastball and upper-80s slider. Toronto obviously will leave him in the rotation as long as it can, hoping he'll refine the changeup to go with two possible plus-plus pitches. He has nine walks this year, but he's making progress. At 21, he has plenty of time.
League, 20, is similar to Perkins, throwing in the mid-90s and making his full-season debut in 2003, his third season as a pro. His slider isn't as good as Perkins', but his changeup and command are better. Arnold, 23, is a different style of pitcher, relying more on movement and pitchability than overpowering velocity. He has dominated throughout his minor league career and currently has a 0.52 ERA in Double-A, so I suspect we'll see him in Toronto sometime this summer.
The Jays have the nucleus of a very good lineup and just need some pitching to return to contention. All three of these pitchers can go a long way to shore up that weakness, though Perkins and League probably won't be ready before 2005.
If Dubois is a sleeper, it's because he's had a hard time staying healthy. The Cubs made him a 14th-round pick in 2000 out of Virginia Commonwealth, but he missed the entire summer with a stress fracture in his left foot. Last year, he would have made a run at the high Class A Florida State League triple crown had he not missed six weeks with a wrist injury. The Cubs temporarily lost him to the Blue Jays in the major league Rule 5 draft this winter, but they got him back when he couldn't make Toronto's 25-man roster and then cleared waivers.
Dubois, 24, definitely can rake. He has power (44 homers, .562 slugging percentage in 217 pro games entering 2003), hits for average (.307) and draws walks (103, .398 on-base percentage). Because his pro debut was delayed, he always has been old for his league, but it's hard to argue with his track record. A two-way star at VCU, he also has a strong outfield arm that enables him to play right field. His biggest weakness is his lack of speed.
It's hard to say what his future will be with the Cubs. Dubois should be ready for the majors by mid-2005. At that point, Corey Patterson and Sammy Sosa will be firmly ensconced in center and right field. Moises Alou might be gone (he and the Cubs have a mutual option for 2005), but if that's the case then Nic Jackson and/or David Kelton likely will have been given a chance to win the left-field job. Coming up behind Dubois will be Felix Pie and a host of second-tier outfield prospects. That's a ton of competition for Dubois to have to fight off, and that depthas well as that of their entire systemled to Chicago's decision not to protect Dubois on their 40-man roster last November. My guess is that Dubois will be included as the second-best prospect in a youngsters-for-veteran trade in the next year or two.
Cubs area scout Billy Swoope deserves a lot of credit for the work he has done in Virginia. In addition to Dubois, he also has signed Jackson, third baseman Brendan Harris and lefthander Justin Jones, all of whom are blue-chip prospects.
April 18, 2003
In the last Ask BA, I detailed some of the prospects at low Class A Capital City beyond übersouthpaw Scott Kazmir. A couple of readers emailed me to watch third baseman Aaron Baldiris, who's hitting .348-3-9 through 13 games. Baldiris, 20, signed out of Venezuela in 1999 and was a Rookie-level Appalachian League all-star in 2002, when he batted .327-3-24 in 58 games. I'll keep an eye on him.
There isn't a standout shortstop this year at either the high school or college level, certainly not along the lines of B.J. Upton, who went second overall to the Devil Rays in the 2002 draft. The only shortstop who has a good chance to go in the first round at this pointand I'll drop in the usual caveat that a lot will change between mid-April and the draft on June 3is Louisiana State's Aaron Hill, and most scouts see him as a pro second or third baseman.
On our recently updated High School Top 50 Prospects list, the five highest-ranked shortstops were No. 19 Jonathan Fulton (Danville, Va.), No. 25 Robert Valido (Miami), No. 28 Adam Jones (San Diego), No. 32 Philip Stringer (Spring, Texas) and No. 38 Sean Rodriguez (Miami). Scouts have concerns about all of them.
Fulton has the best body (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and power of the group, and he also has a strong arm and good shortstop actions. But he also turns 20 in December. Valido, Jones and Stringer all have flashy gloves but questionable potential with the bat. Some teams like Jones, who has been clocked at 93 mph, better as a righthanded pitcher. Rodriguez, whose father Johnny is a minor league batting coach with the Marlins, may be the best player of the group right now but doesn't stack up tools-wise. He's athletic but he's a little stocky and has thick legs, so the team that drafts him probably has to hope he becomes an offensive second baseman. After Valido beat him out for the shortstop job at Coral Park High, Rodriguez transferred to Braddock High.
The Top 50 had a sixth shortstop in No. 43 Matt Moses. He has a better bat than the five shortstops ahead of him, but he's already 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds and probably will outgrow the position.
Scouts have been waiting for some players to emerge like a Colt Griffin (2001) or a Jeremy Hermida (2002) did in the last two years, but it hasn't happened yet.
Tracy, who's hitting .422-1-7 with six doubles in 15 games at Triple-A Tucson, got off to a blazing start last year as well, which made him a regular on the Hot Sheet. He's one of many, many, many players who's a good prospect, just not quite good enough to crack our Top 100.
A 2001 seventh-round pick out of East Carolina, Tracy hit .340-12-115 in 193 pro games entering this year. He obviously can hit for average, and his 51 doubles during that time show that he has plenty of gap power. Power is often the last tool to develop and the Diamondbacks expect that he'll produce more homers in the future, but he has yet to do so. Though he's an adequate third baseman, he's not a standout with the glove. He also doesn't draw a lot of walks, in part because he excels at making contact.
In short, he has shown a lot of hitting ability and needs to make progress in other phases of his game. I see him as similar to a lefthanded-hitting Shea Hillenbrand.
Canyon Country, Calif.
Every indication is that the Padres are concentrating on the consensus top five players, who are the four Fabricio mentioned plus Southern second baseman Rickie Weeks. Though scouting director Bill Gayton has focused on college players in his two drafts with San Diegohe took just one high schooler in the first 10 rounds both timeshe'll take Young if the Padres determine he's the best player available.
While the Padres signed Khalil Greene for a relatively cheap $1.5 million as the No. 13 pick in 2002, they popped him because they really liked him and not because he was an inexpensive college senior. The only player of those five for whom signability might be an issue is Loewen, whose draft rights still are controlled by the Orioles after they took him fourth overall a year ago. Negotiations ended last summer with Loewen at $3.9 million and Baltimore at $2.5 million, so the Padres could be hesitant to take Loewen if he re-enters the draft. The Nos. 3 and 5 picks signed for $2.5 million last year, and the No. 4 slot figures to be worth roughly the same in 2003.
April 15, 2003
In a January Ask BA, I answered a question about the best drafts of all time. My choice was 1985, and I wrote: "I don't know of anyone who has a complete database linking draft picks to something like Bill James' Win Shares, but if anyone ever does that I suspect 1985 would be the runaway winner."
Well, Ask BA reader Steve Ruskowski (South Hackensack, N.J.) has such a database, and he recently updated it through 2002. Here's what Steve reports:
Other notes: Blue Jays draftees totaled the most Win Shares in 2002 with 335, followed by the Indians (289) and the Red Sox (275). Boston is the all-time leader, by the way. Not counting the recent expansion teams, the Padres (91) and Brewers (97) brought up the rear. The 1991 draft produced the most Win Shares in 2002 with 517, followed by 1996 (487) and 1995 (450). Nondrafted players produced 1,787 (25 percent) of the 7,275 Win Shares.
Steve only counts guys who signed and played with the team that drafted them. Players such as 1996 loophole free agents Travis Lee and John Patterson, or Travis Harper (whose contract was voided before he took the mound in the Red Sox system) are considered nondrafted players.
Two other followups: Douglas Roberts, the sports editor of the weekly East County Observer (Bradenton, Fla.), has covered Lastings Milledge this spring and concurred that he has struggled against breaking stuff. He also informed me that Milledge's Lakewood Ranch High team plays at the 5-A level, not the 2-A level as I reported.
As for my complaining last week that MLB's Extra Innings package wasn't going to include Jesse Foppert's debut, I overlooked the very pertinent fact that the game was on ESPN. Foppert looked pretty tough against the Astros, holding them at bay for two innings. If Robb Nen has trouble coming back from a shoulder strain, Foppert would be a nice option at closer.
Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.
This isn't entirely shocking, because Baldelli didn't draw a walk in 98 plate appearances over 23 games when he was promoted to Triple-A last August. He finished 2002 with 23 walks and 97 strikeouts in 520 plate appearances at the three highest levels of the minors.
It's not too late for Baldelli to develop plate discipline. He's just 21 years old, he keeps getting better every year and he has the instincts and work ethic to make more strides with the bat. The only thing that concerns me is that the importance of discipline hasn't been stressed to him, as he was promoted to the majors at an extremely young age despite that obvious shortcoming. Rewarding a player rather than asking him to make necessary adjustments isn't the best message to send. As I've said in past Ask BAs, I think that's what has held Corey Patterson back with the Cubs.
I'm not saying Baldelli is going to turn into a 60-homer guy, but if you want a source of hope, look at Sammy Sosa. At 20, he spent most of the year in the minors and had a 113-35 strikeout-walk ratio. In his first full year in the majors, at age 21, he had a 150-33 ratio. After years of hacking away, Sosa discovered the joys of plate discipline at age 29. So it can happen well into a player's major league career.
Kazmir is clearly the star of this year's Capital City class. There are some other interesting players, but no one else who even cracked the Top 25 on our Mets Top 30 Prospects listand the system isn't overloaded with depth.
The Bombers outfield has three interesting players in Bob Malek, Jon Slack and Alhaji Turay. Malek hit .427 and .402 in his last two years at Michigan State, but he lasted until the fourth round of the 2002 draft after he blew out his elbow in May. He had Tommy John surgery last August. A 2002 fifth-rounder, Slack is a speedy, instinctive outfielder, kind of a stronger version of former Mets first-round pick Jason Tyner. Turay, a second-round pick in 2001, is one of the top hitters in the system but needs to control the strike zone and his temper.
BA's director of new media/The Prospect Report guru/Mets fan Kevin Goldstein is intrigued by righthander Kevin Deaton, signed as a nondrafted free agent out of high school. He had a football scholarship to play guard at the University of Florida, which is why teams passed him over in the 2000 draft. Deaton has solid stuff that works well because of its movement and his command.
Shortstop Corey Ragsdale is one of the best athletes in the system, but I'm not convinced he'll ever hit. He batted a combined .174 in his first two pro seasons, and he's off to an .080 start this year.
It's just you. When we updated our College Top 50 a few weeks ago, Sullivan ranked fifth. The only players ahead of him were Chipola (Fla.) JC lefthander Adam Loewen (who's under control to the Orioles), Southern second baseman Rickie Weeks, Wake Forest righthander Kyle Sleeth and Richmond righty Tim Stauffer. Sullivan seems certain to go in the first 10 picks at this point.
Sullivan led NCAA Division I with 157 strikeouts in 129 innings last spring, then followed up by being Team USA's best pitcher and BA's Summer Player of the Year. He was a bit disappointing to scouts early this season, looking lackluster as he lost his first three decisions, but since has recovered. Sullivan has command of four pitches, the most notable of which are his low-90s fastball and his slider. He's 4-4, 2.09 this year, with 50 hits, 22 walks and 88 strikeouts (eight behind Old Dominion's Justin Verlander for the Division I lead) in 73 innings.
April 11, 2003
As nice as it is to have the MLB Extra Innings package, it also can be frustrating. Jesse Foppert makes his major league debut on Monday at Houston, but that game isn't included. John Patterson just got recalled and makes his first start of the season on Tuesday against Colorado, and that game isn't available either. I guess memories of Wednesday's Mark Prior-Javier Vazquez pitching duel will have to keep me warm for a while.
Milledge may be the best all-around athlete in the draft. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has a lightning-quick bat to go with plus arm strength and speed. He tied Young for the Team USA junior national team batting lead with a .474 batting average last summer. But while Young figures to be a top-five pick, Milledge could slide past the upper half of the first round for a number of reasons.
First and foremost is his performance. Milledge struggled with wood bats at the BA/Perfect Game World Wood Bat showcase last October, striking out 11 times and collecting just three hits in eight games. He hasn't distinguished himself against 2-A competition (the second-lowest of six classifications in Florida) this spring. He has had difficulty with breaking pitches and hasn't shown much ability to make adjustments. If a pitch isn't in his normal swing plane, he doesn't make good contact. There are no reservations about Young's bat.
Besides that, there are two other concerns. Scouts don't have a good handle on what it might take to sign Milledge, and fear it could be more than they want to pay. Also, he was investigated last year for improper conduct with a female minor. Add it all up, and there are teams shying away from Milledge.
"Lastings Milledge could be supremely disappointed," an American League scouting director said. "There could be 15 college players drafted ahead of Milledge. It could be a nightmare for him."
Let's go to the breakdown first, with special thanks to Josh Boyd, who saw Harden in action on his spring-training junket. These are future projections, not where Bonderman and Harden stand now. As always, 50 represents average on the 20-80 scale:
Bonderman Harden Age 20 21 Team Tigers A's Height 6-2 6-1 Weight 210 180 Throws Right Right Fastball Velocity 70 70 Fastball Movement 60 50 Slider 65 60 Splitter -- 55 Changeup 50 55 Command 60 55 Delivery 60 50
Down the road, Bonderman should be a slightly better pitcher than Harden. His fastball, slider and command all should be a tick better than Harden's. Scouts wonder how easy it will be for Harden to maintain a consistent release point because he doesn't incorporate his lower half into his delivery and has a one-piece arm action.
However, if I were running the A's, I would have traded Bonderman instead of Harden. The Tigers' decision to keep Bonderman on their Opening Day roster notwithstanding, Harden is going to be able to help Oakland quicker than Bonderman would have. Even before Harden opened 2003 with 13 perfect innings in Double-A, he figured to contribute to the A's in the second half of the season. Realistically, Bonderman wouldn't have been ready to do the same until late 2004.
For Oakland, which is ready to win now and may or may not be able to retain Miguel Tejada beyond 2003, Harden was the best choice to keep. Losing Tejada won't drop the A's out of contention, but they should maximize their chances to win the World Series while that's a realistic possibility.
It's all speculation two months before the draft, but at this point it's most likely that the Brewers will get a college pitcher with the second overall choice. The best guess is that the Devil Rays will take Southern second baseman Rickie Weeks No. 1. Even if Tampa Bay goes in another direction, Milwaukee has more bats than arms among its blue-chip prospects and still might be inclined to take a college pitcher.
The top candidates at this point are two righthanders, Wake Forest's Kyle Sleeth and Richmond's Tim Stauffer. Sleeth, whose NCAA record-tying 26-game winning streak was snapped by Florida State last weekend, has a strong frame (6-foot-5, 200 pounds), plenty of velocity (he reaches the mid-90s) and has shown an improved slider and command this spring. Stauffer, the Cape Cod's top pitching prospect last summer, has as much life and pitchability as anyone in this draft crop.
Another possibility, if he doesn't sign with the Orioles as a draft-and-follow, is Chipola (Fla.) JC lefthander Adam Loewen. The fourth overall pick a year ago, Loewen is 6-foot-6 and has two potentially dominating pitches with his fastball and curveball.
The Brewers aren't afraid to spend first-round picks on high school players, so they could be tempted by 6-foot-6, 192-pound lefthander Andrew Miller (Gainesville, Fla.). Scouting director Jack Zduriencik, who has had strong drafts in each of his three years in Milwaukee, has begun each with a prep first-rounder. Miller, the top high school prospect, has pitched at 92-94 mph and hit 97 while also showing a nasty slider.
April 8, 2003
Perhaps the strangest sight thus far in the early season is that Alex Gonzalez (Marlins version) is tied for the major league home run lead with four in his first seven games. Coming into 2003, he had averaged a homer every 13 games, and he went deep just twice in 42 contests last year. Somehow, I don't think he'll maintain his 93-homer pace and .958 slugging percentage.
A sad update on Greg Dobbs, whom we addressed in the last Ask BA: He ruptured his Achilles tendon in his second game for Double-A San Antonio and will miss the remainder of the season.
I saw that the Yankees signed Anderson Amador after some kind of contract problem, but there was no mention of the kind of talent Amador has or how much he was signed for. What kind of talent is Amador and how does he compare to some of the other top Yankees outfield prospects such as Bronson Sardinha, Juan Rivera and Rudy Guillen?
Could you please run something on the mysterious Anderson Amador? I was able to find a brief reference to a Dodgers player in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and some local articles from the Dominican Republic which translated refer to "super prospect" and "millions." Have the Yankees again been tempted to make a big-money splash and what do you know about Amador?
Josh Boyd has been working on the Amador story, and saw him play last year at the Area Code Games. Josh says that while scouts thought Amador was the best of seven Dominicans at the Area Codes, none talked him up as worthy of an $800,000 bonus, his reported signing price with the Yankees.
Amador, 18, originally signed with the Dodgers in November 2001 for $40,000. He played one game in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League last year, going 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. Then the maneuvering began.
Major League Baseball rules mandate that players under the age of 21 must have their contracts signed by a legal guardian. Amador's was signed by his brother, technically a violation and an avenue toward free agency. The Dodgers officially lost his rights on Jan. 29.
Besides the Yankees, the Braves, Mariners and Padres also pursued Amador once he went back on the open market. Sources say New Youk outbid San Diego for him by $300,000.
Amador is a five-tool player whom Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Gordon Blakeley compared to a second-round pick. Blakeley said Amador had rare opposite-field power for a young Dominican, and he also ran a 6.7-second 60-yard dash. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder completes the package with plus arm strength. He'll spend the summer in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Amador is a better all-around athlete than Sardinha, Rivera and Guillen, though they've all established themselves to different degrees in U.S. pro ball. Did the Yankees overpay? The better question may be: If they did, does it matter? The Yankees have an endless supply of money, and by driving up the price of foreign talent, they make it tougher on their competition for future prospects. They've toed the line on MLB-suggested slot money for draft picks but spent lavishly on the international market.
If the Orioles don't sign Loewen out of Chipola (Fla.) JC, he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft after going fourth a year ago. Markakis, a Young Harris (Ga.) JC star who's under control to the Reds as a 23rd-rounder from 2002, projects as a late first-round or sandwich pick. The difference between the two is that Loewen rates slightly ahead of Markakis across the board.
Markakis usually pitches at 91-92 mph, while Loewen is more apt to throw a tick or two harder. Markakis has a good curveball, but Loewen's is better and more consistent. From a physical standpoint, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Loewen has four inches and 30 pounds on Markakis. As a hitter, Loewen probably would be drafted in the first three rounds while Markakis is more of just a good college player and likely would go sometime after the fifth.
Dearborn Heights, Mich.
The Royals definitely need position players more than pitchers. But there aren't a whole lot of blue-chip bats in this draft, and it's generally a mistake to draft for need instead of taking the best available player in the first round, especially at No. 5.
Though Young has been hampered this spring after spraining a foot playing basketball, he's definitely the top high school bat in the draft. But the Royals may not get a chance at Young, particularly if the Orioles sign Loewen as a draft-and-follow and take a premium player away from the top of the draft. The two bats most worthy of going in the top five are Southern second baseman Rickie Weeks and Young, and they could be snapped up by the Devil Rays at No. 1 and the Tigers at No. 3. Young's older brother Dmitri plays for Detroit.
There's some expectation that the Padres will take a player who'll accept less than slot money at No. 4, which would mean that the Royals would get one of the top four players in the draft at No. 5. If Weeks and Young are gone, that would leave Kansas City one of the two best college pitchers, Wake Forest's Kyle Sleeth or Richmond's Tim Stauffer. The Royals also could opt for five-tool Florida high school outfielder Lastings Milledge, though his signability and backgroundhe was expelled from a high school last year amid an investigation into inappropriate behavior with a female minormake some teams skittish.
My guess at this moment is that Hill probably will go just before Kansas City picks at No. 30. While there's some question as to his long-term ability to play shortstop, he's still the only college shortstop on our recently revised College Top 50. He's hitting .351-3-27 through 32 games, and his 25-10 walk-strikeout ratio could entice the Athletics, who own the 25th and 26th picks.
Hill would be a good fit for the Royals, and he'd immediately become their top prospect at third base, where most scouts project him to eventually play. If he's gone, Kansas City could try to shore up the hot corner by drafting California's Conor Jackson, though he may have to move from third to first base. Stanford outfielder Carlos Quentin could be another option if the Royals want a bat at No. 30.
April 4, 2003
Somebody stop the Pirates. Four games, four wins, four Reggie Sanders homers. The National League Central is going to be wide open this year, and I like what GM Dave Littlefield is doing with Pittsburgh, but I'll go out on a limb and say I don't think they'll be in the race down the stretch.
We've received a lot of questions about the Yankees' signing of Dominican outfielder Anderson Amador, formerly of the Dodgers. We're still gathering information and hope to have something on our website soon.
Following up on the Rule 5 list from the last Ask BA, infielder Hector Luna officially has rejoined the Indians after being drafted (but not making) the Devil Rays.
It's just you, Peter. We updated our College Top 50 in our last issue and are working on our High School Top 50 this issue, which means that we're canvassing lots of scouting directors. And the consensus is that this is a decidedly average draft, even at the top.
Weeks should be the first college position player taken and possibly even the No. 1 pick. But to quibble with him a little bit, as we mentioned in the last Ask BA, he lacks a definitive position and isn't big, so he might not be a huge power source. He doesn't stack up with Joe Mauer and Mark Teixeira from 2001, and I'd put him behind B.J. Upton from 2002.
Beyond Weeks, there's no college hitter who overwhelms scouts. Aubrey is the favorite to be the next one selected after Weeks, though there's some concern that he might not be more than a 20-homer guy.
As for college pitchers, there's plenty of depth and Sleeth and Stauffer are at the top of the list. Sleeth is considered better than Bryan Bullington, the top pick last year, but he's not in the class of Mark Prior from 2001. Stauffer has exceptional feel and movement on his pitches, but he's probably more of a No. 2 starter than a classic No. 1. Bakker doesn't throw nearly as hard as you'd suspect a 6-foot-9 guy would, and he might not go before the supplemental first round.
At the high school level, Young and Milledge are promising position players. But so were Upton and Prince Fielder last year, and Mauer and Casey Kotchman in 2001. The top pitcher is lefty Andrew Millerbut don't forget the 2002 high school crop included Scott Kazmir and Adam Loewen, or that the previous year featured Gavin Floyd.
As I've mentioned in previous Ask BAs during the offseason, baseball was spoiled by an amazingly fertile 2001 draft. Last year's draft was very ordinary, and this year's is more of the same.
Because Gammons is part of the BA family, no problem. He named Dobbs and Gerut as two of 17 players who would probably be up before Aug. 15.
That would surprise me about Dobbs, because he's in Double-A right now and it's still uncertain whether he can handle the hot corner. But he can definitely hit. Dobbs, signed as a fifth-year senior out of Oklahoma in 2001, batted .296-15-63 between low Class A and Double-A in his first full season in 2002, then hit .409 in the Texas League playoffs. He projects as a .275 hitter with 20-25 homers, and Jeff Cirillo hasn't been coming close to that production recently. But the 24-year-old Dobbs also made 23 errors in 72 games at third last year, many on erratic throws. I wouldn't count on seeing him before mid-2004.
Gerut, 25, was a 1998 second-round pick out of Stanford who was part of Cleveland's heist in a 2001 trade with the Rockies for Jacob Cruz. The Indians also got Josh Bard, while Colorado released Cruz five months later. Gerut is a solid line-drive hitter with plenty of instincts, but he was sidetracked by reconstructive knee surgery that cost him all of 2001. The knock on him was that he might not be a true center fielder and he lacked the power to play on the corners, but he showed good pop in spring training. If he keeps that up he could get a look from the rebuilding Indians, though his Triple-A Buffalo teammates Coco Crisp and Alex Escobar also will be pushing for playing time. Gerut hit .298-10-60 with 20 steals and more walks (57) than strikeouts (50) last year between Double-A and Triple-A.
There's nothing wrong with Sears. He's just in the wrong organization, one that has plenty of first base and DH candidates. He hit .314-5-16 this spring, leading Minnesota in RBIs, but it wasn't enough to get him a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Sears starred in college at Nebraska before the Rockies took him in the third round of the 1997 draft, and they traded him to the Twins in a deal for Todd Walker three years later. He had the best season of his pro career in 2002, hitting .310-20-100 at Triple-A Edmonton.
He's no youngster at 27 and he doesn't have all-star potential. But could he hit .280 with 15-20 homers in the majors if he played every day? Probably. Then again, that's not the production teams want in an everyday first baseman, which is why he hasn't gotten much of a shot. For every Brian Daubach who gets the chance to show what he can do in the majors, there are several who get little or no opportunity.
Sears has played third base in the past, though he's not going to take Corey Koskie's job either. I would guess he'd go to the hot corner if Morneau comes up to Rochester this season. Sears projects as a solid corner-infield backup, though he may have to go elsewhere to get big league playing time.
April 2, 2003
I'll start today's Ask BA with my own question: Where did all of the major league Rule 5 picks wind up to start the season? Here's the list:
Player Original Draft Status Enrique Cruz, 3b/ss NYM Mil made Mil Hector Luna, ss Cle TB designated for assignment Buddy Hernandez, rhp Atl Oak (via SD) returned to Atl Wil Ledezma, lhp Bos Det made Det Derek Thompson, lhp Cle LA (via ChC) on LA DL Danny Carrasco, rhp Pit KC made KC Matt Roney, rhp Col Det (via Pit) made Det Victor Hall, of Ari Hou (via Col) returned to Ari Marshall McDougall, inf Cle Tex traded to Tex, sent to minors Travis Chapman, 3b Phi Det (via Cle) returned to Phi Luke Prokopec, rhp LA Cin on Cin DL Aquilino Lopez, rhp Sea Tor made Tor Javier Lopez, lhp Ari Bos traded to Col, made Col Luis Ayala, rhp Ari Mon made Mon Jose Morban, ss Tex Min claimed by Bal, made Bal Michael Neu, rhp Cin Oak made Oak Chris Spurling, rhp Pit Atl traded to Det, made Det Matt Ford, lhp Tor Mil made Mil Shane Victorino, of LA SD made SD Ronny Paulino, c Pit KC returned to Pit John Koronka, lhp Cin Tex returned to Cin Blake Williams, rhp StL Cin returned to StL Gary Majewski, rhp CWS Tor returned to CWS Matt White, lhp Cle Bos on Bos DL Rontrez Johnson, of Tex Oak claimed by KC, made KC Jerome Gamble, rhp Bos Cin returned to Bos Jason Dubois, of ChC Tor returned to ChC Adrian Brown, of TB Bos retained by Bos, sent to minors
Luna's status is still unresolved. He was designated for assignment on Saturday, and if he clears waivers then the Indians can take him back for half of the $25,000 draft price. Of the other major league Rule 5 draftees, 13 made Opening Day rosters (nine with the teams that acquired them in December, two who were traded to a third team and two who were claimed off waivers by a third club), nine were returned to their original organizations and three are on big league disabled lists. Two players were retained by their drafting team without being kept on the 25-man roster, one via trade and one after clearing waivers and not being reclaimed by his original club.
Following up on the Kazuhito Tadano item from the last Ask BA, he received a $71,000 bonus to sign with the Indians.
Now that the baseball season officially has begun, Ask BA is back on a twice-per-week schedule. It usually will appear on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Whoever picked third really wouldn't be losing out in that scenario. In our 2003 Prospect Handbook, I ranked Teixeira as the No. 1 prospect in baseball and Mauer as No. 3. Prior no longer qualifies as a prospect by our definition, but I'd put him on top, so my order would be Prior, Teixeira, Mauer. You could put these three in any order and easily defend your choice.
I'd take Prior first because a dominant pitcher is harder to find than a dominant hitter. With his stuff, command and picture-perfect mechanics, he's going to be the best pitcher in baseball over the next 15 years. Though I think Teixeira eventually will wind up playing first base while Mauer will be a catcher, I have no doubts that Teixeira will be a 40-plus homer hitter in the majors. Mauer definitely will hit for average, as will Teixeira, but he might not be more than a 25-homer guy.
I'd put Weeks at No. 23, sandwiching him between two first basemen, Hee Seop Choi of the Cubs and Brad Nelson of the Brewers. Only two 2002 draft picks rank higher, Mets lefthander Scott Kazmir at No. 11 and Devil Rays shortstop B.J. Upton at No. 21.
Why wouldn't I rank Weeks higher? I have a lot of respect for his hitting ability, and he's clearly the best college position player available in the 2003 draft. But he's not a real big guy (5-foot-11, 195-pounds), so he may not have big-time major league power. He also doesn't have a clear position and his best option is second base. If he can't cut it there, he'd have to play third base or the outfield.
As a result, I'd rank him behind 15 position players on our Top 100. They're all obviously more established as pros than Weeks is, and either have more power (such as Mark Teixeira) or have very good bats and can play tougher positions (such as Jose Reyes and Joe Mauer).
Your friend provided an accurate scouting report on one of the sleepers in the Padres system. An eighth-round pick out of a Colorado high school in 2001, Pauley got rocked in his pro debut but rebounded last year at Eugene. He went 6-1, 2.81 with a 62-18 strikeout-walk ratio in 80 innings. He showed a consistent 88-90 mph fastball that peaked at 93-94, as well as a solid curve and changeup. He's still young and hasn't filled out yet (6-foot-2, 170 pounds), so he could add more velocity in the future.
His profile is similar to that of Brian Lawrence, though he has more on his fastball. Neither is especially tall or overpowering, but they throw strikes and mix three pitches well. Pauley could become a good middle-of-the-rotation starter. He'll begin this season at low Class A Fort Wayne.