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By Jim Callis

February 26, 2003

More age changes are starting to filter in as players go through the visa process. Loyal Ask BA reader Craig Jasperse (Fargo, N.D.) just received his Cubs media guide and noted that nine players' ages have been revised since the last edition. The most significant change solves a mystery that has prompted several questions to Ask BA.

Former Mariners second baseman Pedro Liriano, a Triple-A Rule 5 draft pick by the Cubs at the Winter Meetings, is listed with a Feb. 20, 1977 birthdate. That means he's five years older than he was thought to be when we ranked him 25th on our Seattle Top 30 in the 2002 Prospect Handbook. Liriano never was allowed into the United States last year, apparently because he continued to insist he was born in 1982.

Speaking of the Prospect Handbook, the 2003 edition arrived at our Durham, N.C., offices last Friday. All orders placed with BA have been shipped, so look for it soon.

    I have read a number of times over the winter that Francisco Rodriguez wasn't on the Angels' major league roster on Aug. 31, 2002, so he shouldn't have been eligible for postseason play. What's the rule and how is something like that overlooked? Also, are there any penalties included in the rule and has it been overlooked often in the past?

    Kevin Youngblood
    St. Louis

To be eligible for the postseason, a player must be on his team's 25-man roster as of Aug. 31. However, there's a major loophole that essentially allows clubs to use whomever they want. Injured players can be replaced by anyone on the team's 40-man roster. Rodriguez took the spot of Steve Green, who was put on the disabled list during spring training.

But what escaped attention at the time was that Rodriguez wasn't promoted to the Angels' 40-man until Sept. 15. By baseball rules, he shouldn't have pitched for Anaheim in the playoffs, during which he won five games. I don't know how something like that gets missed, other than Major League Baseball allows teams to play games with postseason eligibility in the first place. Green wasn't healthy all year, yet gave the Angels a free spot on the playoff roster. The current rule should be revised, and enforced at the very least.

No penalties are included in the rule. Even if there were, MLB approved the postseason roster so it would be hard to nail the Angels. I don't know other examples of the rule being ignored, but if so, I doubt the player(s) contributed as much as Rodriguez did to Anaheim's cause.

    Dennis Tankersley barely exceeded the maximum innings for maintaining rookie status. If he had pitched 1 1/3 fewer innings, where would he have ranked on your Padres Top 10 Prospects list?

    Dave Wolfe
    Madison, Wis.

I always enjoy these sorts of hypothetical questions. Tankersley rated No. 2 behind Sean Burroughs on our 2002 list, then went out and had a rough season. He was OK in the minors but not as dominant as he had been in the past, going a combined 6-7, 3.45 in 19 starts between Double-A and Triple-A, with a 107-51 strikeout-walk ratio and a .237 opponent average in 102 innings.

But in his first taste of the majors, he had very little success. Tankersley went 1-4, 8.06 in 17 appearances (nine starts), giving up more walks than strikeouts (40-39 in 51 innings) and getting raked for a .304 average. He pitched well in his first two outings, then got shelled and lost his confidence.

After he was demoted, managers ranked his slider as the best breaking pitch in the Pacific Coast League. But he never regained his past command of his low-90s fastball, and it lacked life as well. He also didn't have much luck with his changeup. One scout, who didn't like Tankersley's less-than-smooth delivery, thought he would be a better fit in the bullpen. Passed by Jake Peavy and Oliver Perez, Tankersley probably will have to succeed as a big league reliever before getting another shot as a starter.

A case could be made for Tankersley ranking anywhere from fourth to 10th on the current list, if he were eligible. I'd put him sixth, behind Jake Gautreau but ahead of Ben Howard and Josh Barfield.

    How bad is the injury to Ryan Harvey's knee? Is it an injury that could hurt his long-term ability? I can't seem to find any information.

    Keno Leighty
    Vancouver, Wash.


    I was looking at scouting report on Ryan Harvey and he seems to be a better version of Adam Dunn. I was wondering how does the two compare. What is Harvey's potential, and would the Cubs draft him with the sixth pick, considering he's out for the 2003 season?

    Michael Sales
    Gary, Ind.

In a deep year for outfielders, Harvey ranks as one of the best and as an early first-round pick despite blowing out his right knee at November's Diamond Club Classic showcase in Florida. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament and strained his medial collateral ligament in an outfield collision. Harvey isn't expected to return to the diamond until April 1, though he already has begun working out again. He's the latest offensive prospect from Dunedin (Fla.) High, which also had Cubs second-round pick Brian Dopirak and Phillies eighth-rounder Steve Doetsch (now at Indian River, Fla., CC) last year.

Harvey made our preseason All-America first team as a two-way player. Though he's a 6-foot-5 righthander capable with a low-90s fastball and a lot of projection, he won't pitch this spring. Most teams preferred him as an outfielder anyway, because of his tremendous raw power and his athleticism. He's a prototype right fielder who eventually should get stronger than his current 215 pounds.

The Dunn comparison only works to a point. Both players are tall power hitters, but Dunn bats lefthanded (Harvey is a righty) and weighs 30 pounds more. One of Dunn's trademarks is his extreme patience at the plate, and it's impossible to say whether any amateur will develop the same. To Harvey's credit, he's a better athlete and has a stronger arm than Dunn, which will allow him to play more challenging defensive positions. Still, given what Dunn has accomplished, I wouldn't label a high schooler as a better version.

The Cubs, like any other team picking at the top of the draft, most certainly will take the best available prospect on their draft list. I could see Chicago leaning toward a position player, but at this point I don't think Harvey will go quite as high as No. 6. If he doesn't sign, he'll play at the University of Florida.

February 20, 2003

While I was on vacation, the Ask BA mailbag filled up with questions about recent international signees. Let's get right to them.

    The Red Sox just announced the signing of 18-year-old Gary Galvez and claim he would have been a first-round pick had he gone through the draft. How does he project and is his age legitimate?

    David Johnson
    Lincoln, Neb.


    What are the scouting reports on the young Cuba defector Gary Galvez, who was recently signed by the Red Sox? Where would he have ranked on the BA Top 30 in your 2003 Prospect Handbook? It seems like a bit of a stretch to have him start his pro career in low Class A Augusta, but is his international experience as a member of the Cuban junior team enough of a foundation for him to jump to full-season ball?

    Mike Koblish
    Exton, Pa.

Scouts first spotted Galvez when he played first base and pitched in relief for Cuba's 16-and-under team at the 2000 Pan American Championships in Monterrey, Mexico. He didn't make Cuba's 18-and-under club in 2001, but did survive the cut last year. He was one of the team's top hitters and was projected as their ace for the 2002 World Junior Championships in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

The day before Cuba departed for Canada, Galvez was told he wouldn't be allowed to make the trip. His father Manuel, who has lived in the United States for eight years, visited Gary in April and Cuban officials were worried that he'd attempt to defect. Oddly enough, Cuba kept Galvez on its roster—and won the tournament shorthanded—in a misguided attempt to act as if he weren't being punished.

According to his agent, Henry Vilar, Galvez realized it was unlikely that he'd ever be allowed to travel out of the country with future national teams, and immediately began to make plans to defect. After three aborted attempts, he was smuggled off the island along with 22 other Cubans in late August.

Galvez spent a month in a U.S. detention center before getting processed and establishing residency in the Dominican Republic, making him a free agent eligible to sign with any team. He showcased himself at Jose Rijo's baseball academy in the Dominican. He worked out twice for the Yankees, throwing 90-94 mph, then pitched before 18 teams and threw 90-93 in mid-January. He pitched again in front of several clubs in early February, making as much of an impression with his poise as with his velocity (89-91 mph).

The Dodgers, Mariners, Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees all made serious bids for Galvez. Sources say Boston signed him for $450,000 plus college scholarship money, though their offer was $50,000 less than the highest bid. Vilar wouldn't identify which team tendered the biggest bonus. He said Galvez wanted to sign with the Red Sox because they showed the most interest in him and developed the best relationship with him. Galvez also wanted the opportunity to advance quickly, and Boston has the thinnest farm system of the five contenders for his services.

There don't seem to be any questions about Galvez' birthdate: March 24, 1984. It matches the birthdate on the rosters for the national teams he made, which have proven reliable in the past. With many of the Cuban defectors whose ages have proven to be bogus, there was immediate skepticism—and there hasn't been any surrounding Galvez.

For a teenager, Galvez already owns a strong frame (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and a solid fastball. While every team looks for those attributes, the Red Sox also are focusing on pitchability. They praise his ability to spin a curveball and change speeds with the pitch, as well as his feel for a changeup and his mound presence. He's fairly polished for his age, though how quickly he'll adapt to a different culture remains to be seen. He's expected to obtain his visa and join Boston's minor league camp in early March.

Red Sox director of international scouting Louie Eljaua wouldn't label Galvez as a sure first-round pick, but did say he'd definitely go in the top three rounds of the draft. If he had a strong spring, it wouldn't be a shock if a 19-year-old pitcher with Galvez' stuff and aptitude went late in the first round in June.

Boston won't decide where to send Galvez for his pro debut until he gets to camp. Red Sox farm director Ben Cherington said he expects that Galvez will begin the season in extended spring training, with the chance to reach Augusta or short-season Lowell by the end of the summer. None of the best young pitchers signed out of the 2000 and 2001 drafts by Boston—Phil Dumatrait, Manny Delcarmen, Billy Simon, Josh Thigpen—reached full-season ball until two years after signing, though obviously there's a new regime in place.

As for the Prospect Handbook, I would have put Galvez 11th on my list between righthander Aneudis Mateo and outfielder Michael Goss, neither of whom has reached full-season ball either.

    Tigers fans are a pretty cynical bunch these days, though I fall on the cautiously optimistic side. They just signed a 17-year-old Dominican third baseman, Wilken Ramirez. Teenage prospects don't get a standing ovation around the Motor City these days—everyone is hoping for a little light at the end of the tunnel before they're too feeble to drive—but what can you tell us about this new kid on the block?

    Mike Jahncke
    Toronto

Several teams pursued Ramirez, with the Tigers coming out on top with a $290,000 bonus. He has the potential to have above-average power and speed, and he's advanced at the plate for a Dominican teenager. While his background is as a shortstop, he's already 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds and is still growing. Detroit will make him a third baseman and he's expected to make his pro debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in June.

Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila was in Puerto Rico for the Caribbean Series when Ramon Pena, a baseball-operations assistant for the club, urged Avila to come see Ramirez work out at the team's Dominican academy. Avila was impressed with his tools and his performance in a simulated game.

"He basically played against older guys with pro experience," Avila told BA's Josh Boyd. "He showed pitch recognition and maturity at the plate. He ran the bases well and showed good instincts for the game."

    The Phillies signed 18-year-old Australian catcher Grant Karlsen. I was wondering if you had heard anything about him. Were any other teams after his services? What is his potential?

    Dan Starr
    Philadelphia

Karlsen played on the Australian national team that finished fifth at the 2002 World Junior Championships. He struggled with the bat, but the Phillies liked his catch-and-throw skills. Very athletic for a catcher, Karlsen is 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. His receiving skills currently are the strongest part of his game, and he also has an average arm. He made some adjustments at the plate after the August tournament, and hit .410 while helping his Victoria team win Australia's national junior champioinship this winter. Karlsen will be in minor league camp and should make his pro debut with a short-season team this summer.

Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever said Karlsen could have gone between the fourth and eighth rounds in the 2003 draft, and gave him a comparable bonus. The Twins and other clubs showed interest, but Philadelphia was the first to make an offer. Karlsen helps fill a void at catcher, the weakest position in an improving Phillies farm system.

"Obviously, we're looking for catchers," Wolever said. "He's a young guy who demonstrated an average arm and average to above-average receiving skills. We felt there was something to work with. We hope that his bat will come around."

The Phillies are hoping to establish themselves in Australia, and Karlsen became the second Aussie they've ever signed. The first was Kevin Hooker, a 31st-round pick out of Oregon State in 1995. Hooker now works for the Phillies as a part-time scout based in Perth, and he set up the deals to sign Karlsen and 18-year-old righthander Scott Mitchinson. Mitchinson, another member of Australia's World Junior team, is 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds. He touched 90 mph in Quebec, has a potential plus breaking ball and throws strikes. He'll spend this year at the joint Australian Baseball Federation/MLB academy in Queensland.

    I noticed that The Yankees have been granted the right to negotiate with Hiroshima Carp righthander Ramon Ramirez. What has BA heard about him?

    Mitchell Cohen
    East Brunswick, N.J.

Not a whole lot, other than that the Yankees bid $350,000 for the rights to negotiate with Ramirez and have until March 10 to sign him. But fortunately, Ask BA has a fine friend in Gary Garland, whose extensive coverage of the Japanese leagues can be found at BaseballGuru.com.

Though the 21-year-old Ramirez is just 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds, he has been clocked as high as 94 mph. He usually works in the low 90s, and also throws a slider, curveball, shuuto (a reverse slider that sinks and breaks in on righthanders) and a changeup. Ramirez uses a three-quarters arm slot. Signed by the Carp in May 2002, he made just two big league appearances for them and faced 14 batters. He surrendered three hits and two walks while striking out three. He also pitched nine games in the Japanese minors, going 2-1, 4.26 with 20 whiffs in 25 innings.

An international scout for another team dismissed Ramirez, saying he wasn't a difference maker. I saw one story that mentioned that Ramirez was a former outfielder in the Rangers system, but I can't confirm that. SportsTicker Boston has a record of an outfielder with that name in the Texas system from December 1996 through June 1998. The timetable would make sense, and the players have roughly the same build, but the birthdate SportsTicker has (June 30, 1980) doesn't match the one Gary has (Aug. 31, 1981). It's not uncommon for Hiroshima to sign players for its Dominican academy after they've been released by U.S. organizations.

February 5, 2003

Maybe the Astros aren't destined to get a homegrown ace out of Venezuela. For all their success scouting that nation, they still have just eight major league victories to show for it. Houston has signed hitters such as Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen, Richard Hidalgo and Melvin Mora from Venezuela, as well as pitchers Freddy Garcia and Johan Santana.

While Garcia and Santana are arguably the top pitchers on their clubs, the Astros didn't get their first big league win from a Venezuelan until Carlos Hernandez beat the Pirates on Aug. 18, 2001. Now that he'll miss all of 2003 after having tears in his labrum and rotator cuff repaired, Hernandez is going to be stuck on eight wins for a while. Houston doesn't have any imminently ready Venezuelan pitchers in their pipeline. Starter Fernando Nieve and relievers Angel Barrios and Juan Campos are their best Venezuelan mound prospects, but all three toiled in the lower minors last year.

I'll be on vacation next week, but after that you should get a nice run of uninterrupted Ask BAs. At some point this spring, we'll return to the twice-a-week schedule.

    In a story in your College Baseball Preview, you indicated that Adam Loewen currently holds the highest rating among players evaluated by the Major League Scouting Bureau. I'm assuming the Bureau grades out Loewen higher as a pitcher than as a position player, but I'm wondering how close his offensive potential is to his pitching potential. Could we see a team draft him as a hitter rather than as a pitcher in the 2003 draft?

    Wallace McAlexander
    Memphis

Wallace is correct in his assumption that the Bureau graded Loewen higher as a pitcher, but he's not far behind as a hitter. He finished third at the 2002 World Junior Championships in batting with .542-1-10 totals in 24 at-bats. Our crack Expos/Canadian correspondent Michael Levesque reports that one scout who saw Loewen in high school graded his power potential as a 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale. The scout also gave him a 60 for his batting potential and an 80 for arm strength. His speed and defense project as fringe average because Loewen will slow down as he gets bigger.

Because Loewen is lefthanded and has such good stuff (92-96 mph fastball, nasty curveball, a splitter that serves as a changeup and a new slider), I'd be surprised if a team moved him off the mound. But if that happened, Loewen certainly has the talent to make it to the majors as a hitter.

    I have been reading your organization Top 10 Prospects lists with much interest the past few years. This year I was wondering about the absence of Matt Belisle on Atlanta's list.

    Sean King
    Calistoga, Calif.

Belisle ranked fourth on our 2001 list, then missed all of that season after having surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back. He placed sixth on our 2002 list and didn't regain his previous form when he returned last year. A 1998 second-round pick out of an Austin high school, the 22-year-old righthander went 5-9, 4.35 at Double-A Greenville. He allowed 162 hits and 39 walks while fanning 123 in 159 innings.

Belisle looked stiff last year and couldn't locate his pitches as well as he had in the past. His stuff was down at times, though at his best he still threw in the low 90s and put his curveball and changeup over the plate. He just needs to get back to full strength to move back up our Atlanta list. He didn't make the Top 10, in part because he slipped and in part because the Braves have a lot of talent and he has been passed by several players. Belisle is included in the 2003 Prospect Handbook.

    What ever happened to Pirates catching prospect J.R. House? Did he fall completely off the radar last year?

    Chris Garner
    Valparaiso, Ind.

In a word, yes. Since House shared the MVP award in the low Class A South Atlantic League with Josh Hamilton in 2000, little has gone right for either player. A fifth-round pick out of a Florida high school in 1999, House jumped two levels to Double-A in 2001 and hit .258-11-56 in 112 games while battling hamstring and ribcage problems.

Last year was much worse, as House played just 30 games in Double-A and hit .264-2-11. He had three operations: a hernia repaired in May, follow-up surgery to remove scar tissue in June and Tommy John surgery in September. Now 23, he'll miss at least the first half of 2003 before returning to Double-A. After ranking No. 1 on our Pirates Top 10 in 2001 and 2002, he didn't make that list this year (though he too is in the Prospect Handbook).

Speculation that House might play quarterback at West Virginia died down after his reconstructive elbow surgery. He can't even catch a break in football, as his national high school records of 5,526 single-season and 14,457 career passing yards were both surpassed last fall.

    Would the Cubs face any restrictions with a sign-and-trade deal involving Bobby Brownlie? If they're reluctant to pay the signing bonus, it would make sense to use him in a trade. For example, Brownlie and Dave Kelton to Texas for Hank Blalock and financial considerations.

    Tim Worrall
    Chicago

The Cubs can't sign-and-trade Brownlie because of a major league rule prohibiting players from being dealt until the one-year anniversary of their first professional contract. That's why last summer, Jeremy Bonderman (Athletics to Tigers) and Don Levinski (Expos to Marlins) initially could be identified only as players to be named later in trades. They joined their new clubs one year to the day after turning pro.

This rule came about because of Pete Incavigilia. After shattering several NCAA records while at Oklahoma State, Incaviglia was drafted eighth overall in 1985 by the Expos. Incaviglia immediately demanded a major league contract and wasn't enthralled with the idea of playing for a cold-weather team in Canada. Facing the prospect of losing him to the January 1986 draft, Montreal worked out a deal with Texas. The Expos signed Incaviglia, then immediately traded him for Jimmy Anderson and Bob Sebra. Shortly thereafter, the one-year freeze on trading newly signed players became a major league rule.

I still think the Cubs will sign Brownlie, though for much closer to the $2 million they've reportedly offered than the $4 million Brownlie and agent Scott Boras are seeking. Chicago has all the leverage here. With three supplemental first-rounders and extra picks in the second, third and fourth rounds, the Cubs don't need Brownlie to have had a successful 2002 draft. He also won't be able to pitch much in game action before June, so re-entering the 2003 draft could be risky. Then again, I'm still stunned that Boras advised Matt Harrington to turn down a $1.2 million big league deal from the Padres last spring.

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