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By Jim Callis
January 30, 2003
Ask BA is back, albeit a day late, now that the 2003 Prospect Handbook has been finished. Before anyone asks, we hope to have the books in stock by the end of February.
Tonight, at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, I'll be doing a Red Sox chat on the very passionate Sons Of Sam Horn site. If you're interested, the best way to check that out is to go to http://pub121.ezboard.com/fsonsofsamhornbostonredsox.showMessage?topicID=9857.topic.
Kudos to Brock for taking my hint. To answer his first question, the 1985 draft almost immediately was hailed as the best ever, and that hasn't changed 17 years later. Among the first-round picks were Will Clark (No. 2, Giants), Barry Larkin (No. 4, Reds), Barry Bonds (No. 6, Pirates) and Rafael Palmeiro (No. 22). That's just the tip of the iceberg, as the draft also contained such luminaries as Randy Johnson (second round, Expos), David Justice (fourth round, Braves), John Smoltz (22nd round, Tigers), Mark Grace (24th round, Cubs). There also were tons of guys who had long and productive careers, such as B.J. Surhoff (No. 1, Brewers) and Brady Anderson (10th round, Red Sox). 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.
Fortunately, for the purposes of the second question, Alan Schwarz has a database linking first-rounders to Win Shares. Here are the best first fives since the draft began in 1965. Not surprisingly, 1985 comes in first place:
1985: B.J. Surhoff (Mil), Will Clark (SF), Bobby Witt (Tex), Barry Larkin (Cin), Kurt Brown (CWS)
1986 and 1978 were the runaway leaders in terms of having five players who had solid careers in the first five picks. The average draft has roughly 2½ legitimate big leaguers in its top five.
One other recent draft besides 2001 could break into that top five:
1998: Pat Burrell (Phi), Mark Mulder (Oak), Corey Patterson (ChC), Jeff Austin (KC), J.D. Drew (StL)
The worst top fives of all time, doing some extrapolation so that recent drafts with players who haven't completed their careers won't be unduly punished:
1971: Danny Goodwin (CWS), Jay Franklin (SD), Tom Bianco (Mil), Condredge Holloway (Mon), Roy Branch (KC)
The first two tied for worst because they consisted of Danny Goodwin and no one else who reached the majors for any significant period of time. There was a huge difference between the 1971 and 1975 drafts, however. In 1971, the later rounds were filled with gems such as Mike Schmidt (second round, Phillies), George Brett (second round, Royals), Ron Guidry (third round, Yankees) and Keith Hernandez (42nd round, Cardinals). By contrast, the 1975 draft was the weakest ever.
Brown is an interesting prospect, but the hype that's starting to swirl around him reminds me of what happened with A.J. Hinch. The A's drafted Hinch in 1996's third round after he had a stellar career at Stanford and with Team USA. He made his pro debut in 1997 and was spectacular: .328-24-97 in 134 games, including a .376 mark in Triple-A. Afterward, though this may seem to be hard to believe, there was a lot of discussion (though not by Baseball America) that Hinch might be the second coming of Mike Piazza or close to it.
And that was ridiculous. Anyone who looked at his college career would have known that he wasn't a .328 hitter or a 24-homer guy. I thought he'd be a decent big league regular, perhaps along the lines of Jason Kendall. I was wrong, too. The lesson here is not to get overexcited by a guy's pro debut.
Brown went 35th overall mainly because he was willing to sign for $350,000. Oakland had seven picks before the beginning of the second round and couldn't afford to pay market value for all of them. Before the draft, many scouts projected Brown as a backup catcher. He looks better than that now and it's easier to envision him becoming a big league regular, though I'm not ready to call him a star yet. He has some power and plate discipline, which endears him to the Athletics, but he also has to keep his stocky body in shape and improve his footwork and agility. He struck out in one-fourth of his pro at-bats, so he'll have to make more contact as well.
Our Dodgers list hasn't been officially released yet, but barring any stunning prospect signings by Los Angeles, Figueroa will rank No. 2 when it comes out. Four BA editors put together personal Top 50 Prospects lists for inclusion in the Prospect Handbook, and Figueroa was No. 37 on mine.
A Venezuelan, he first came to the attention of scouts at the Perfect Game World Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., in December 2000. He spent 2001 on the showcase circuit before signing with the Dodgers for $500,000 in January 2002. At age 18 in his pro debut, he went 7-3, 1.42 in 15 starts between Rookie-level Great Falls and low Class A South Georgia. In 76 innings, he allowed 38 hits and 39 walks while striking out 105. Raw numbers don't get much more impressive than that.
Figueroa already has a pro body at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, plus he's lefthanded. He gets a lot of life on an 89-94 mph fastball and also has a top-notch curveball. His changeup is coming along nicely. His main point of emphasis is trying not to rush his delivery because he loses command when he does. Figueroa has a huge ceiling and will pitch in high Class A this year.
January 22, 2003
Much like the money in many superstars' contracts, Ask BA is being deferred. The good news is that it's just for a week and not several years. We're scurrying around working on 2003 Prospect Handbook, and I can't give Ask BA the attention it deserves. But next week, when I'll otherwise be on vacation, I'll be back to answer your questions on Wednesday.
January 15, 2003
I get asked this about three times a day, so I'll dispense with all that I know about the negotiations between the Cubs and first-round pick (21st overall) Bobby Brownlie. He's going to pitch in front of Chicago general manager Jim Hendry on Jan. 20, one day before classes start at Rutgers. Brownlie told The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.) that if he doesn't get an offer he likes, he'll take a red-eye back to New Jersey and attend his first class the next morningending the Cubs' rights to him.
The rest of this is speculation, not information from any inside source: All sides believe Brownlie is fully recovered from biceps tendinitis. I'm slightly skeptical that Hendry and Brownlie adviser Scott Boras (remember, he doesn't become his "agent" until after Brownlie signs) will hammer out a deal immediately. I think it's more likely that Brownlie will look good, he'll hold off attending class and will sign within a week for a deal slightly better than what Jeremy Guthrie, the 22nd pick and another Boras client, got from the Indians. Put me down for Jan. 23, a $3.5 million bonus and a four-year, $5 million major league contract in your Bobby Brownlie pool.
Ten years from now, we're going to look back at the 2001 draft and say, "Wow!" The first five picks (Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Dewon Brazelton, Gavin Floyd, Mark Teixeira) were as good as I can remember from any draftthat begs another Ask BA question, but it hasn't been asked yetand the depth just keeps going and going. I bet when we do our annual Top 100 Prospects list later in the offseason, at least one-fourth of the players will be from the 2001 draft, and that doesn't even count Prior because he no longer qualifies. I don't know what the typical total is 21 months after a draft, but 25 seems like a huge number.
Here's my Top 10 list for the two drafts:
1. Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers (fifth overall, 2001)
2. Joe Mauer, c, Twins (first overall, 2001)
3. Jesse Foppert, rhp, Giants (second round, 2001)
4. Scott Kazmir, lhp, Mets (15th overall, 2002)
5. Gavin Floyd, rhp, Phillies (fourth overall, 2001)
6. Casey Kotchman, 1b, Angels (13th overall, 2001)
7. B.J. Upton, ss, Devil Rays (second overall, 2002)
8. Jeremy Bonderman, rhp, Tigers (26th overall, 2001)
9. Scott Hairston, 2b, Diamondbacks (third round, 2001)
10. James Loney, 1b, Dodgers (19th overall, 2002)
Baseball America has written who-knows-how-many-thousands of words on both Foppert and Prior, especially the latter, so I'll just break out the 20-80 scouting scale for both guys, with 50 representing major league average. These grades are for their future potential, not where they are today:
Foppert Prior Age 22 22 Team Giants Cubs Height 6-6 6-5 Weight 210 225 Throws Right Right Fastball 70 75 Breaking Ball 60 70 Changeup 50 60 Splitter 65 -- Command 60 80 Delivery 60 80
While their grades are pretty close, one important difference is that Prior is very close to his potential already while Foppert has more development ahead. In general, Prior's current grades are within 5-10 points of his ceiling, while Foppert's are 10-15 away. Another way to look at it is that Prior has more remaining career value than any current major leaguer, while Foppert is the best pitching prospect in the minors.
And no, I'm not contradicting myself on Jose Contreras again. It's just that he won't spend a day in the minors.
Dearborn Heights, Mich.
The Royals don't have a particularly strong system and are especially weak at the hot corner. Not a single third baseman appears on our Kansas City Top 30 list in the upcoming 2003 Prospect Handbook. The best one in their system is Justin Gemoll, who hit .310-1-49 with a .786 on-base plus slugging percentage last year as a 24-year-old at high Class A Wilmington. Moving vice president for baseball operations George Brett back down to the playing field just might be the Royals' best option. More seriously, righthander Zack Greinke, the sixth overall pick in the 2002 draft, would have the highest ceiling among their minor league third basemen if Kansas City ever decided to move him off the moundbut that's not going to happen.
Because the Royals have so many needs, they almost certainly will take the best player available with the No. 5 pick, regardless of position. And even if they wanted to target the hot corner, there isn't a prospect who projects as a slam-dunk first-rounder at this point, let alone the fifth overall choice. The best collegians are Aaron Hill (Louisiana State), Conor Jackson (California), Lee Mitchell (Georgia), Jamie D'Antona (Wake Forest) and Chad Corona (San Diego State), while the top high schoolers are Andy D'Alessio (Barron Collier HS, Naples, Fla.) and Ian Stewart (La Quinta HS, Garden Grove, Calif.).
January 8, 2003
It always amuses me that the Baseball Hall of Fame's selectivity puts it a cut above its counterparts in other sports, yet every year there are a lot of complaints about that very selectivity. My only real gripe with the annual Hall of Fame voting is that I never understand why someone like Gary Carter, who deserves to be in Cooperstown, has to go through six ballots before he gets in. What changed for him this time? In my mind, Carter ranks higher among all-time catchers than Eddie Murray does among first basemenand yet Murray is considered a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.
If I had a vote, I would have put a check next to these names without hesitation: Carter, Rich Gossage, Murray, Ryne Sandberg, Bruce Sutter and Alan Trammell. I'd still have four spots left on my ballot if I wanted to use all of them, and I'd go with Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Lee Smith. I'd also consider, but not vote for, Tommy John, Jack Morris and Dale Murphy.
More of these guys may get in during the next three elections, which don't feature many obvious candidates. There's Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor in 2004, Wade Boggs in 2005 and no one in 2006. In 2007, Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire and Cal Ripken Jr. are all slam dunks.
I'm going to have to plead a little temporary insanity on this one, because when I received Dave's email, I was sure that I had written "I might pick Contreras over Teixeira," or "I'm leaning toward picking Contreras over Teixeira." But no, I did write that Contreras would get my vote. And, honestly, I'm still making up my mind.
But the fact that Contreras hasn't faced professionals doesn't hurt him. For any prospect, we're ultimately judging how good he's going to be in the major leagues. Last year, I ranked Mark Prior as the second-best prospect in baseball and he hadn't faced a pro batter yet. My only regret now is that I didn't rank Prior No. 1. Teixeira has faced more pro competition than Contreras, but not much more. He has 321 at-bats in the minors.
I also don't see how much the quality of Contreras' competition (mostly amateur, though skilled amateurs, rather than pro) reflects on his ability to stay healthy. He has pitched a lot in Cuba, but he also hasn't been hurt. For what it's worth, Teixeira was injured for much of his final season at Georgia Tech, and for the first half of his first year in pro ball. As for Contreras' age, he was one of the few Cubans I remember being signed whose birthdate wasn't disputed. I haven't seen any questions as to whether he's really 31.
Matsui probably will rank third on my personal list when we're rating the Top 100 Prospects. I think it's easy to put him behind Contreras, because there's some question as to whether he'll be able to match the power he showed in Japan. Some teams see him as more of a Mike Greenwell than a contender for the home run title. Contreras has three plus pitches, command and makeup. I think he's a surer thing to be a star than Matsui, and they have roughly the same expected career length remaining.
But as Josh Boyd pointed out when we were talking the other day, Teixeira could play a decade longer in the majors than Contreras will. And while both might have the same peak value, Teixeira almost certainly will have more career value. Then you get into the whole hitter-vs.-pitcher argument, and I have a lot to think about before I decide whom to rank No. 1. Put me down as undecided for now.
Lots of surprises in today's Ask BA. Mattox didn't quite make our Mets Top 10 Prospects list, which subscribers should have and we'll post online next week, but he didn't miss by much and will be in our upcoming 2003 Prospect Handbook. An 11th-round pick in 2001 out of Anderson (S.C.) College, he went 12-6, 3.29 in 26 starts, with a 126-66 strikeout-walk ratio and a .238 opponent average in 142 innings.
I haven't seen reports of Mattox, who's 22, pitching at 94-95 mph. He usually works around 90 mph with his sinker, mixes speeds well with his changeup and also keeps hitters off balance with a curveball and a slider. The Mets would like to see him improve his focus and preparation, which in turn would help his command. He's a prospect, but not a top guy in an improving system.
Koronka has switched organizations after his best professional season. Koronka, 22, was a 12th-round pick in 1998 out of South Lake High (Groveland, Fla.). In his first four years in the Reds system, he went 18-30, 4.61 and wasn't highly regarded. That changed last year, when he went 11-0, 3.07 in 12 starts at high Class A Stockton. He wasn't as successful at Double-A Chattanooga, going 2-8, 4.99, but finished up strong in the AFL. That's probably what got him picked in the major league Rule 5 draft by the Rangers, who will try to keep him on their 25-man roster as a situational reliever.
Koronka will be in our Prospect Handbook, toward the tail end of our Texas Top 30. His best pitch is his changeup, and he also has a high-80s fastball. His chances for success depend on his ability to improve his slurvy curveball and to throw strikes on a consistent basis.
January 1, 2003
Ask BA once again falls on a holiday, but I couldn't in good conscience take another week off. So Happy New Year to everyone, and let's take care of some questions before I get back to watching bowl games and working on the Prospect Handbook.
Contreras is one of those prospects who falls through the cracks of our division-by-division coverage in the issues and on the website because he wasn't with his organization when we ran that list. (We'll get to another example in a moment.) But when the Prospect Handbook comes out in mid-February, he'll sit atop our Yankees Top 30 rankings.
Contreras isn't a typical "prospect," because he's 31 and has proven himself at the highest levels of international baseball against professional hitters. But by the BA definition, he's a prospect because he hasn't exceeded Major League Baseball's rookie playing-time limits (130 at-bats or 50 innings). When we release our Top 100 Prospects list in March, he'll get my vote to be No. 1 overall.
The Yankees system has thinned out, and the signings of Contreras and Japanese star Hideki Matsui can't change that. When we rank all 30 organizations, I'll even argue that Contreras and Matsui shouldn't count for New York, because they're veterans of other leagues who won't ever see a day in the minors.
Here's the scouting report Josh Boyd wrote on Contreras for the Prospect Handbook:
Contreras defected from the Cuban national team during the America Series tournament in Saltillo, Mexico, last October. After he established residency in Nicaragua, Major League Baseball declared him a free agent in December. The Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners and Dodgers sent officials to Nicaragua to negotiate with Contreras and agent Jaime Torres. Boston, which openly coveted Contreras, had a four-year, $27 million offer on the table and was willing to go higher when New York vice president of international scouting Gordon Blakeley and Latin American scouting supervisor Carlos Rios closed the deal. The Yankees signed Contreras to a four-year, $32 million major league contract that included a $6 million bonus. He was considered the best amateur pitcher in the world, and Blakeley opined that he might be the best ever. Contreras earned that reputation by consistently dominating in international competition. At the last three major international tournamentsthe 1999 Pan American Games, 2000 Olympics and 2001 World CupContreras went 7-0, 0.59 with 66 strikeouts in 61 innings, facing mostly professional hitters. His most notable performance came against the Orioles in a 1999 exhibition in Havana. Contreras threw eight shutout innings in relief, striking out 10. He didn't pitch as well in a rematch in Baltimore, though that was attributed to cold weather and a rain delay. In Cuban league play, Contreras had a career 127-50, 2.82 record, including a 13-4, 1.76 mark last season.
Contreras regularly throws 94-96 mph with his fastball and tops out at 98. An impressive physical specimen with a rock-solid frame, he's able to maintain his velocity deep into games. His power arsenal is rounded out by two more plus pitches, a slider and a splitter, and he has the confidence and savvy to throw all three pitches in any count. He keeps lefties and righties alike off balance by varying the speed (81-89 mph) and shape (sweeping action or a short, biting cutter) of his slider, and he can throw his splitter for strikes or bury it in the dirt. His delivery is clean and powerful, and he creates some deception with his lead arm. He also has toyed with a changeup, which has been effective.
The only test for Contreras is to prove he can rise to the occasion in major league venues with the burden of a heavy contract in New York. He hasn't suffered any known injuries, but the Yankees admit he has shouldered a heavy workload in Cuba. While many Cubans are surrounded by questions about their age, no one has challenged Contreras' birthdate. He has all the makings of a No. 1 starter and will be expected to pitch to that standard in New York.
Thunder Bay, Ont.
Arnold will be No. 5 on our Jays Top 30 in the Prospect Handbook, trailing Dustin McGowan, Jayson Werth, Kevin Cash and Francisco Rosario. Here's our scouting report on him:
In 1½ years as a pro, Arnold has gone 20-6, 2.28, reached Double-A and been involved in two trades involving seven teams. Oakland gave up three of its best prospects (Carlos Pena, Jeremy Bonderman, Franklyn German) to Detroit to get Arnold from the Yankees. Toronto got him from the Athletics for Felipe Lopez, who had played his way out of the Jays lineup.
Arnold possesses superior game sense and instinctively knows how to vary his pitching patterns to set up hitters. In addition to his effective 88-91 mph fastball, he throws two different palmballs that serve as changeups. One floats and the other dives, and Arnold will throw them at any time in the count. He's also very aggressive at pitching inside.
Arnold's slider is too flat and needs refinement. When he reported to the A's, there was some concern about his conditioning. However, he hired a personal trainer at the end of the season and engaged in strenuous workouts that showed quick results.
Arnold was a reliever for his first three seasons in college, and some scouts believe his delivery will lead him back to the bullpen. The Jays will continue to use him as a starter, however, and he could get his first taste of the majors in late 2003.
Griffin ranked fifth on our Athletics Top 10, and his scouting report can be viewed by clicking here. He's rumored to be heading to Toronto in a separate but related transaction to the trade that sent Arnold there, though nothing is official yet. Griffin would have slotted right behind Arnold on our Oakland list, and he'll do the same if he joins the Jays.
Peterson may be getting short shrift because he repeated low Class A last year, but he factors prominently on our Mets Top 10 Prospects list. That's in our latest issue, which subscribers should get early next week.
Heading back to Capital City wasn't a bad thing, either, because Peterson was only 20 last year and his confidence only can benefit from his strong season. In 26 starts, he went 8-10, 3.86 with 153 strikeouts in 138 innings. South Atlantic League opponents hit just .221 against him.
Peterson, a 2000 second-round pick from a Louisiana high school, has a lot going for him. He's 6-foot-5 and 217 pounds, throws a lively 92-93 mph fastball on a downward plane and has a sharp curveball. He's still refining his command and his changeup, and he needs to improve at the mental aspects of pitching. Peterson has as high a ceiling as any righthander in the Mets system.
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