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By Jim Callis

June 27, 2003

After watching this afternoon's Cubs-White Sox game, I think my favorite team just became whichever club is playing against the team Hawk Harrelson broadcasts for. Egads.

    Is listing Victor Martinez as a Futures Game first baseman Baseball America's way of guessing he won't make it as a catcher? Or is the World Team just short of first basemen and deep at catcher? How has Martinez' defense been at Triple-A Buffalo?

    Elliot Legow
    Youngstown, Ohio

Don't read too much into our putting Martinez on the World roster as a first baseman. It's much harder to fill our the World team than the U.S. team, and the Twins took away easily our most obvious candidate when they promoted Canadian Justin Morneau.

We had two solid catchers in Justin Huber (Australia/Mets) and Guillermo Quiroz (Venezuela/Blue Jays), so we put Martinez' bat at first base. At least he has played 14 games there this year. The other "first baseman" on the World roster, Rene Reyes (Venezuela/Rockies), has spent all of his time in the outfield.

Martinez has been on fire in June, batting .437-3-22, raising his totals to .328-7-45 in 73 games at Triple-A Buffalo. He has proven he can hit at every level of the minors. While his game-calling and receiving skills are praised, he never has erased basestealers with regularity. He threw out just two of 13 runners during his September 2002 callup. He had nabbed just 10 of 72 this year (through Sunday's games), and his 14 percent success rate was the worst among International League catchers. Buffalo's other catchers had nailed 37 percent of basestealers, so you can't blame the pitching staff.

Josh Bard, who's a superior defender but not in Martinez' class a hitter, hasn't produced much offensively in Cleveland. I suspect Martinez will get called up shortly after the all-star break and spend time at catcher, first base and DH.

    Could you fill me in on two Diamondbacks prospects at high Class A Lancaster who haven't gotten much press but are having good years statistically: Josh Kroeger and Chris Snyder? I know Snyder was a college catcher and a second-round pick last year. What's his timetable? I have no idea who Kroeger is or whether he's a legitimate prospect.

    Ron Lewis
    Phoenix

Snyder is the better prospect of the two. He was a second-round pick out of the University of Houston last year, and he's the organization's catcher of the future. He has the best catch-and-throw skills in the system, and he some power as well. Snyder, 22, batted .258-9-44 in 60 games at Lancaster last summer and .314-10-53 there in 69 games this year before he was recently promoted to Double-A. He projects as a solid defensive catcher who could hit .275 with 15-20 homers annually in the majors.

Kroeger, 20, was a fourth-round pick out of a San Diego high school in 2000. He's a good athlete who turned down a football scholarship from Division II Truman State (Mo.) as a wide receiver. But he was also a soft .260 hitter in his first three pro seasons, which included a .235-7-58 performance last year in Lancaster.

Kroeger is batting .345-5-54 in 76 games this year, ranking second in the California League in batting and first in extra-base hits (41). I'm not as impressed as I would be if he weren't repeating a level, but he's still young for high Class A at age 20. He also has improved his strikeout-walk ratio from 136-23 in 2002 to 55-35 this year. He's a solid right fielder who will have to continue to hit as he moves up.

    The University of Kentucky has finally landed its next coach in John Cohen, but it took more than two months. His résumé looks great, but I didn't hear about him as a potential candidate. What perspective can you share?

    Michael A. Falkowitz
    Lexington, Ky.

Cohen has flown under the media's radar as a University of Florida assistant the last two seasons. Before that, he spent four years as head coach at Northwestern State, where he went 146-84 and also earned high marks for his recruiting and fundraising efforts. Northwestern State has become a cradle of coaches. Cohen's two predecessors, Jim Wells (Alabama) and Dave Van Horn (Nebraska; now at Arkansas), immediately resuscitated major conference underachievers and took them to the College World Series after changing jobs.

Cohen has similar potential but faces a more difficult task at Kentucky, which has finished last in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division in each of the last three years. Here's what BA's college maven, John Manuel, says about him:

While John Cohen's name didn't come up as a rumor attached to the Kentucky job, choosing him makes a lot of sense. He has been a head coach at the cradle of coaches, Northwestern State, where Dave Van Horn and Jim Wells were among those who have led the Demons and then moved on to bigger and better jobs in the Southeastern Conference. (Of course Van Horn went to Nebraska first but is now at Arkansas.) Cohen played in the league at Mississippi State and was an assistant the last two seasons at Florida, so he knows the SEC well.

That would seem to give him an advantage over candidates from outside the SEC such as Virginia Commonwealth's Paul Keyes (now a top candidate for Virginia's opening), and his head coaching experience gives him a leg up on the likes of SEC assistants Daron Schoenrock (Mississippi State) and Jim Toman (South Carolina). Florida has had two very solid recruiting classes with Cohen teaming up with Gators head coach Pat McMahon and fellow assistant Ross Jones.

Kentucky is going to be a difficult job. I'm not certain anyone can win consistently there because it has the worst weather in the SEC and because the league is so tough from top to bottom. But Tim Corbin made Vanderbilt a factor quicker than anyone thought possible, so anything's possible.

June 25, 2003

My oldest son and I have made the eight-hour drive back from Omaha and the College World Series to suburban Chicago. Along the way, I learned that John Wayne and Bob Feller were born a mere 19 miles apart.

What I already knew, and was borne out in Omaha, is that Rice has a very impressive rotation. Not only did the Owls win the first national title of any sort in school history, but with Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend and Philip Humber returning in 2004, they'll have a strong chance to repeat. It also prompted this observation from Dave Archie in Canton, Mass.:

    I don't know if you guys have given any thought to this, but is that 2002 recruiting class for Rice one of the best ever in college baseball? Rice brought in true freshmen Niemann, Townsend, Humber and Paul Janish; four-year transfers David Aardsma, Justin Crowder and Vince Sinisi; and juco transfers Dane Bubela, Chris Kolkhorst and Justin Ruchti. That's the rotation, the closer, the shortstop, the best hitter and two-thirds of the outfield of this year's team Aardsma was a first-rounder this year, Sinisi just missed and the three starters could go that high next year. How does this stack up all-time?

The truth of it is that I don't have the resources to provide an answer to that question. But Dave does make a great point. And if Janish hits next season, he possibly could sneak into the first round as well.

    I'm a big Cubs fan and, like all of my fellow Baseball America junkies, a close follower of minor league baseball. However, at the time of the Cubs-Marlins trade last spring, I don't recall ever having heard of Dontrelle Willis. He rose quickly last year and was atop BA's Prospect Hot Sheet for most of 2002, but until then I had little knowledge of him. Was he supposed to be this good when the trade was made, or has he improved more than anyone thought he would?

    Tom Bannon
    Anderson, Ind.

When Willis was traded to the Marlins in March 2002, he had some promise but wasn't nearly as highly regarded as he is today, when he's bucking for a spot on the National League all-star team. An eighth-round pick out of a California high school in 2000, he had yet to reach full-season ball.

We ranked him as the sixth-best prospect in the short-season Northwest League in 2001, and after the season he came in at No. 21 on our Cubs Top 30 in our Prospect Handbook. He wasn't the highest-rated prospect in the deal that sent Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca to Chicago, as the Marlins also received righthanders Jose Cueto (Cubs No. 16) and Julian Tavarez, plus catcher Ryan Jorgensen (No. 22).

Willis had some upside, but as with any young pitcher, it was uncertain how he'd turn out. Nobody saw him blossoming this rapidly. His strengths were his breaking ball and command, while his fastball had average velocity and his changeup was a work in progress.

After joining the Marlins last year, Willis added 2-3 mph to his fastball, improved the consistency of his changeup and refined his control to the point where he rarely leaves pitches up in the strike zone. He has thrown even harder at times in 2003. Add in his unorthodox delivery, and he has been very tough to hit in the majors, going 7-1, 2.38 in his first nine starts.

    I have noticed that Bobby Brownlie's last few starts have been excellent. Would you say he's on a similar track to Mark Prior? What is his ETA?

    Ted Despotes
    Phoenix

Ted asked his question before Brownlie's last outing on Sunday, when he came within a strike of a seven-inning no-hitter. He has won all four of his June starts, posting a 0.36 ERA and limiting high Class A Florida State League hitters to a .120 batting average. Overall, he's 5-2, 1.88 in 11 starts, with a 49-20 strikeout-walk ratio in 57 innings.

Though he's making his pro debut, these results aren't entirely unexpected. A Rutgers product, Brownlie was considered the top college pitching prospect in the 2002 draft, but he lasted 21 picks because he came down with biceps tendinitis and had a big price tag. It took the Cubs nine months and $2.5 million to sign him, and they kept him in extended spring training for three weeks in April so he could build up his pitch count.

Since then, he has pitched in the low 90s and overmatched FSL hitters with his trademark big league curveball. He has little left to prove at that level and should get to Double-A in the second half of the season. Once he arrives in West Tenn, Brownlie and Angel Guzman can duel for the right to be called the Cubs' best pitching prospect—as if they needed more outstanding arms.

I wouldn't put him in the same class with Prior. (I'm not sure I would put anyone in that class.) Prior has a better fastball, better changeup and better command, and he reached Wrigley Field after nine minor league starts. The Cubs have four very promising starters right now and don't need to rush Brownlie. I suspect he'll make his major league debut sometime in the second half of 2004.

    I was kind of curious as to why Jay Sborz wasn't an All-American. Was it because of his record? His ERA was 0.68. How do you judge the All-Americans?

    John Wilson
    Vienna, Va.

Sborz, who starred at Langley High in Great Falls, Va., was a legitimate candidate for our high school All-America teams, which are based on a combination of performance and pro potential. He delivered on both counts. His 93-95 mph fastball and plus slider got him drafted in the second round by the Tigers. Sborz also went 7-3, 0.68 with 140 strikeouts and 21 walks in 72 innings.

He just came up a bit short. Those are impressive statistics, but the 12 pitchers who made our two teams had an average record of 10-1, 0.78. Ten of them are elite prospects, just like Sborz. The other two are righthander Justin Cassel, who went 15-0, 1.13 for our national high school champion (Chatsworth, Calif.), and Keith Weiser (Talawanda High, Hamilton, Ohio), who didn't allow an earned run in 78 innings.

June 17, 2003

Major League Baseball is attaining its desire to clamp down on bonuses thus far. Just one first-rounder has exceeded MLB's recommended slots. No. 11 Michael Aubrey signed yesterday with the Indians for $2.01 million, $60,000 above MLB's proposal.

Of the 14 first-rounders who have signed, only No. 10 Ian Stewart has improved on his slot from 2002. He got $1.95 million from the Rockies, $75,000 more than the Rangers gave Drew Meyer a year ago. (This doesn't count No. 28 choice Daric Barton of the Cardinals, whose $975,000 bonus is infinitely higher than his slot got last year because his counterpart, John Mayberry Jr., didn't sign.)

For more on money-related matters with the draft, check out our next issue, which should be online in the next few days and in the hands of subscribers within a week. By the time you read this, I should be on the road to Omaha with my oldest son for a few days of vacation at the College World Series, which remains my favorite baseball event. There will be no Ask BA on Friday, but I'll be back with the usual two editions next week.

    Now that this year's draft is history, could you give us a Top 10 of college and high school players for next year?

    Bob Miller
    Canton, Mich.


    It seems that once again, my beloved Pirates are doomed to another lousy season. So who look to be the top picks in next year's draft?

    Cliff Jordan
    Chicago

The 2003 draft is less than two weeks old, and already our readers are looking ahead. Fortunately, BA editor in chief Allan Simpson has done the same, and here are his latest top prospect lists for the 2004 draft.

Top College Prospects, 2004
1. Stephen Drew, ss, Florida State
2. Jeff Niemann, rhp, Rice
3. Wade Townsend, rhp, Rice
4. Jered Weaver, rhp, Long Beach State
5. Jeremy Sowers, lhp, Vanderbilt
6. Justin Verlander, rhp, Old Dominion
7. Matt Durkin, rhp, San Jose State
8. Philip Humber, rhp, Rice
9. Tyler Lumsden, lhp, Clemson
10. Micah Owings, rhp/dh, Georgia Tech

Top High School Prospects, 2004
1. Nick Adenhart, rhp, Williamsport HS, Hagerstown, Md.
2. Homer Bailey, rhp, LaGrange (Texas) HS
3. Mike Rozier, lhp, Henry County HS, Stockbridge, Ga.
4. Matt Bush, ss/rhp, Mission Bay HS, San Diego
5. Tyler Kersten, rhp, Brazosport HS, Freeport, Texas
6. Chris Nelson, ss/rhp, Redan HS, Decatur, Ga.
7. Andy Gale, rhp, Phillips Exeter Academy, Durham, N.H.
8. Jared Kubin, of, Oakton (Va.) HS
9. Chuck Lofgren, lhp, Serra HS, Burlingame, Calif.
10. Jason Corder, rhp, Capistrano Valley HS, Mission Viejo, Calif.

Three of the college guys are still active at the College World Series, all on the Rice pitching staff. Niemann and Townsend dominated Southwest Missouri State and Texas in the Owls' first two games, and Humber is set to face today's Miami-Texas winner on Wednesday night. Makes me feel good about picking Rice to win it all at the outset of the NCAA playoffs.

June 19 update: Allan informed me that he inadvertently left Weaver off the list, so we've changed it to put Weaver at No. 4.

    I was wondering what happened to Philip Stringer. I don't know if I overlooked him, but did he even get drafted? I thought he was supposed to be one of the better shortstops in the draft.

    Jonathan Holt
    Leesburg, Fla.

You didn't overlook him, Jonathan, because Stringer wasn't drafted. But you're also right in stating that the Klein Oak High (Spring, Texas) product was one of the top shortstops available.

Scouts wish Stringer was bigger than his current 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, but the reason he didn't get selected was that he was considered nearly impossible to sign away from Tulane. I'm sure clubs contacted him during the draft, and he obviously indicated he wasn't going to be swayed from college. Sometimes compared to Jimmy Rollins, Stringer has solid tools across the board and plenty of polish. He gives the Green Wave a nice replacement for Tony Giarratano, a third-round pick of the Tigers.

    Every year, the Giants seem to go off the board in the early rounds of the draft. While a player like Jesse Foppert has been a hit, as a San Francisco fan I'm a little concerned that every year I continually read statements like "surprise pick of the draft" or "it was thought he'd go in later rounds" attached to Giants draftees. Are they making these choices for signability reasons? Or do they just think they're smarter than everyone else?

    Rick Rogers
    Portland, Ore.

The main reason that the Giants often surprise us on draft day is that they keep their secrets better than most teams and don't let the consensus keep them from picking players that they're high on. They're not stingy when it comes to paying slot money, and they're choosing players where they think they have to in order to keep them away from other clubs. As in other areas of the game, San Francisco does a fine job in the draft without drawing a lot of attention to itself.

Righthander Boof Bonser was a bit of a surprise first-rounder in 2000, but he has worked out well so far. Foppert was considered a second-round pick by other clubs in 2001, so while he has turned out to be a steal he wasn't really a shocker. The Giants defied the consensus with a number of their other early picks that June, such as third baseman Julian Benavidez (third round), righthander Josh Cram (fourth) and catcher Justin Knoedler (fifth), with mixed results. They did the same thing with second-round outfielder Freddie Lewis (hit) and fifth-round shortstop Kevin Kelly (miss) in 2002.

This year, the Giants began their draft by taking Rice closer David Aardsma 22nd overall. Based on a dominant summer in the Cape Cod League last year, Aardsma projected as a first-round pick before having an inconsistent junior season. Most teams thought of him as a second-rounder, but San Francisco wasn't guaranteed it could get him if it waited that long. They also locked in on Texas high school righthander Craig Whitaker, and astutely read other teams' intentions to determine (correctly) that they could get him in the supplemental first round at No. 34.

Both of the Giants' second-round picks were unexpected. Though Long Beach State's Todd Jennings hit just .296 with 13 extra-base hits in 55 games, they made him the fifth catcher selected because they liked his athleticism and his strong finish after he moved into the 49ers' leadoff spot. Then they popped Chabot (Calif.) JC third baseman Nate Schierholtz, a slugger who hit .400-18-60 as a freshman this spring but was considered tough to sign.

Third-rounder Brian Buscher, a South Carolina third baseman still active at the CWS, was considered more of a solid senior sign than a high draft pick. But it's also hard to argue with a player who won the Southeastern Conference batting title (.383-14-65 in 66 games)—or with the Giants' record of success.

June 13, 2003

I have some quickie College World Series predictions, which are pretty much maintaining the faith in the predictions I made along with the rest of the BA staff before the regionals started. Cal State Fullerton over Stanford in bracket one and Rice over Texas in bracket two, with the Owls beating the Titans in three games for their first championship. And remember who told you Southwest Missouri State would make it to Omaha two rounds ago.

    If you were to combine the 2001-03 drafts into one draft, what would you predict the selections to be by using this year's selection order, knowing what we know now about players such as Mark Prior and Jesse Foppert?

    Nick Lucca
    Ambler, Pa.

I'm not going to worry about the order teams would pick in, because in the first round teams almost always take the top available player and don't worry about trying to fulfill a specific need. Keep in mind that the 2001 draft was one of the deepest in recent memory. And while it may not be completely fair, I'm going to give an edge to players who have proven more in pro ball already.

So here's my projected first round:

1. Mark Prior, rhp (Cubs, No. 2 overall, 2001)
2. Mark Teixeira, 3b (Rangers, No. 5 overall, 2001)
3. Joe Mauer, c (Twins, No. 1 overall, 2001)
4. Jesse Foppert, rhp (Giants, second round, 2001)
5. Scott Kazmir, lhp (Mets, No. 15 overall, 2002)
6. Jeremy Bonderman, rhp (Athletics, No. 26 overall, 2001)
7. B.J. Upton, ss (Devil Rays, No. 2 overall, 2002)
8. Gavin Floyd, rhp (Phillies, No. 4 overall, 2001)
9. Adam Loewen, lhp (Orioles, No. 4 overall, 2002)
10. Casey Kotchman, 1b (Angels, No. 13 overall, 2001)
11. Delmon Young, of (Devil Rays, No. 1 overall, 2003)
12. Rickie Weeks, 2b (Brewers, No. 2 overall, 2003)
13. Scott Hairston, 2b (Diamondbacks, third round, 2001)
14. John VanBenschoten, rhp (Pirates, No. 8 overall, 2001)
15. Brad Nelson, 1b (Brewers, fourth round, 2001)
16. Jeff Mathis, c (Angels, No. 33 overall, 2001)
17. Zack Greinke, rhp (Royals, No. 6 overall, 2002)
18. Bryan Bullington, rhp (Pirates, No. 1 overall, 2002)
19. Bobby Brownlie, rhp (Cubs, No. 23 overall, 2002)
20. Jeremy Guthrie, rhp (Indians, No. 22 overall, 2002)
21. Cole Hamels, lhp (Phillies, No. 17 overall, 2002)
22. J.J. Hardy, ss (Brewers, second round, 2001)
23. Macay McBride, lhp (Braves, No. 24 overall, 2001)
24. Prince Fielder, 1b (Brewers, No. 8 overall, 2002)
25. Andy Sisco, lhp (Cubs, second round, 2001)
26. Kyle Sleeth, rhp (Tigers, No. 3 overall, 2003)
27. Kris Honel, rhp (White Sox, No. 16 overall, 2001)
28. Mike Jones, rhp (Brewers, No. 12 overall, 2001)
29. Dan Haren, rhp, (Cardinals, second round, 2001)
30. Tim Stauffer, rhp (Padres, No. 4 overall, 2003)

    Please go over the Yankees' draft. Did they take any potential impact players?

    Mitchell Cohen
    East Brunswick, N.J.

The Yankees' first-round pick, New Jersey high school third baseman Eric Duncan (No. 27 overall), had one of the best lefthanded bats in the draft. But he also is projected as a big league first baseman, so to truly be an impact player, he'll really have to hit.

Duncan was a good value at No. 27 after being projected to go as high as 14th to the Reds. New York's second- and third-round selections, high school outfielders Estee Harris (New York) and Tim Battle (Georgia), are prime athletes but their hittability isn't as certain as Duncan's, especially in the case of Battle. They have a lot of upside if it all comes together for them. The same is true for fourth-rounder Steven White, a Baylor righthander who could become a solid big league starter if he develops a consistent breaking ball—and that remains a big if.

Among the Yankees' more interesting later-round picks are: a pair of hard-throwing Josh Smiths, an eighth-rounder from the University of Texas and a 23rd-rounder from Central Arizona JC; 10th-rounder T.J. Beam, a 6-foot-7 righthander out of the University of Mississippi; 17th-rounder David Purcey, a hard-throwing lefthander from Oklahoma University who showed more stuff than success this spring; and 20th-rounder Daniel Bard, a North Carolina prep righthander who might have been a first-rounder if not for a strong commitment to the University of North Carolina.

And if you appreciate bloodlines, you have to like two sons of former Yankees all-star infielders: Indiana high school first baseman Taylor Mattingly (42nd round, son of Don), and Felecian (N.J.) College second baseman Andre Randolph (45th round, son of Willie).

    Is there any reason to be concerned about B.J. Upton's errors? He's making one nearly every other game, which seems excessive, though maybe that's not out of line for a prep shortstop in his first pro season. Are they mostly throwing or fielding? And how's his defense as a whole?

    Alan Rittner
    St. Petersburg, Fla.

I don't have a breakdown that distinguishes between Upton's throwing and fielding errors, but don't be concerned that he made 27 miscues and a .904 fielding percentage at low Class A Charleston in his first 59 pro games at shortstop. It's not uncommon for shortstops to be erratic in the lower minors as they adjust to pro ball and play on fields that aren't of major league caliber.

Here's how all of the Gold Glove shortstop winners in the last decade fared in their first year of full-season ball. I also threw in Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada for good measure:

Shortstop          Age   Level            G    E     FA   
Omar Vizquel        19   A              101   15   .969
Barry Larkin        22   AAA/MLB        127   21   .967
Rey Ordonez         23   A+/AA          127   23   .965
Nomar Garciaparra   21   AA             125   23   .963
Alex Rodriguez      18   A/AA/AAA/MLB   129   31   .948
Orlando Cabrera     21   A               67   17   .942
Neifi Perez         21   A+             134   39   .940
Edgar Renteria      17   A              114   34   .934
Miguel Tejada       20   A+             110   44   .926
Jay Bell            19   A+/AA          131   59   .914
Derek Jeter         19   A              126   56   .889

As you can see, Jeter struggled more than Upton has, but that didn't stop him from developing into a surehanded shortstop. The players on the bottom of that list did get better as they rose through the minors, and it's also worth noting that at 18 Upton is younger than all of these guys with the exception of Edgar Renteria.

I'd be more concerned if Upton was having problems at the plate, and he's not. Despite being one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, he has had little trouble adjusting to wood bats and higher quality pitching. He's hitting .265 with solid pop (20 extra-base hits, .417 slugging percentage) and a ton of walks (37, which contribute to a .373 on-base percentage) and steals (21 in 30 attempts). He needs to cut down on his strikeouts (54), but the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft sure looks like a star in the making.

June 10, 2003

Miami deserves a lot of credit for going from unranked in our preseason Top 25 to the College World Series. The Hurricanes went 34-29 in 2002, then lost six of their nine position-player starters and the top three members of their rotation. Despite having to fill all those holes and then losing No. 1 starter Danny Touchet to Tommy John surgery, Miami has gone 44-15 and has a shot at its third national title in five seasons.

But here's what I don't understand, though I back freedom of expression as much as the next guy. How can the university tolerate the players wearing a "42" on the sides of their caps in tribute to former Hurricanes pitching coach Lazer Collazo? How can it allow the team to hang his uniform in the dugout?

In February, Collazo resigned after an investigation into his former baseball academy revealed "impermissible recruiting and activities associated with a sports club, impermissible financial aid and violation of honesty standards. " The infractions included hiring nonscholarship players to work at the academy, inaccurately reporting his income and allowing athletic representatives to have unsanctioned contact with prospective recruits.

Though the NCAA considered five violations major, and they came on the heels of major scholarship infractions in 1995, Miami got off with two years of probation and scholarship reductions. The NCAA rarely metes out severe punishment to baseball programs, so though a ban on hosting regional or super-regional playoffs would have been more fitting, its decision wasn't surprising.

Still, it's inappropriate for a program that has been busted twice for major violations in the last decade to pay tribute to someone who committed many of those violations. What's next? Topless babes on the back of Alabama's football helmets to honor Mike Price?

    In reading Ask BA the last couple of years, I noticed that usually someone asks where you would rank the teams in terms of how their drafts went. But I haven't seen anything like that yet. So I was wondering who, in your mind, had the best drafts and worst drafts, and specifically where you would rank the Orioles' draft?

    Greg Levine
    Blacksburg, Va.

At this time of year, I always think about one of Braves scouting director Roy Clark's favorite sayings: "Every year we go through the same thing. We talk about the talent crop, this and that and whatever. But I guarantee you, after the first day there will be 30 scouting directors telling 30 general managers what a great draft they've had." Every team theoretically got the top player on its draft board every time its pick came up. At this point, we don't know who's going to sign and who's going to school, let alone how these players will adjust to wood bats and the toughest competition they've ever faced. We have little clue which late-round picks will turn out to be steals.

Then again, this is Baseball America, and there's nothing baseball-related that we won't try to rank. My knee-jerk reaction is that Cleveland's draft impressed me the most and Montreal's impressed me the least. Of course, the Indians were helped by having three first-round picks, while the Expos were hampered by their financial situation. So neither was on an entirely level playing field with the other 28 teams.

That said, Cleveland got one of the best value picks in the first round with Tulane first baseman Michael Aubrey at No. 11. Aubrey may not be the absolute best hitter in this draft, but he's the safest bet to become a productive big league hitter. Ball State's Brad Snyder (No. 18) was arguably the best all-around outfielder in the college crop. And supplemental first-rounder Adam Miller (No. 31) would have gone higher in most years, but this wasn't a good draft if you were a high school righthander. The Texas product has a live arm, projectable body and pitchability, and his total package earns comparisons to Bret Saberhagen. I also think between the defense of Tennessee's Javi Herrera (second round) and the offense of Stanford's Ryan Garko (third), they may find a pretty useful catcher with those two picks.

Montreal began its draft by taking Cal State Fullerton righthander Chad Cordero at No. 20. Though Cordero is one of college baseball's top closers, he might have been available in the second round and may not be more than a setup man in the majors. Finances obviously played a role in his selection, as did his ability to move quickly through the minors. The Master's (Calif.) outfielder Jerry Owens (second round) is a top athlete but he's also very raw and I'm more turned off by the high risk than I am excited about the high reward. Portland outfielder Kory Casto (third) also went higher than most teams figured he would.

As for the Orioles, their draft strikes me as much more toward the middle of the road. Signability also played a part in their selections and I'm not quite sure why it had to. Owner Peter Angelos has deep pockets, and Adam Loewen's $3.2 million bonus as a draft-and-follow is spread over four years. But after Aubrey wouldn't accept a $1.85 million bonus, Baltimore went with Young Harris (Ga.) JC two-way star Nick Markakis. Markakis is a legitimate first-rounder, and though almost every other team would have kept him on the mound as a strong-armed lefthander, the Orioles like his bat enough to make him a full-time outfielder. He's an accomplished hitter who led national juco players in RBIs and hit .439-21-92 this spring, so that's not a stretch.

A bigger surprise came when Baltimore took Texas A&M righthander Brian Finch in the second round. Finch gets a lot of sink on his pitches and has touched 96 mph, but few teams projected him to go that high. He signed for $750,000, whereas most early second-round picks a year ago received $800,000 or more.

William & Mary righthander Chris Ray (third round) excelled in the Cape Cod League last summer as a reliever and struggled somewhat as a starter this spring. With a fastball clocked as high as 98 mph, he could be a dynamic late-inning reliever. Southern Mississippi righty Bob McCrory (fourth) also has a strong arm.

    Given the well-documented sad state of the Cardinals farm system and where they picked, what do you think of the top three picks: Daric Barton, Stuart Pomeranz and Dennis Dove? Any sleepers in the lower rounds?

    Allen Buller
    Portland, Ore.

Barton, a California high school product, is an offensive-minded catcher with a strong lefthanded bat. The Cardinals had to pick him in the first round to guarantee they'd get him, and they signed him for a below-slot $930,000. If he can stay behind the plate, which is questionable, he has all-star potential. Otherwise, he may have to be a corner infielder.

Pomeranz, a Tennessee prepster taken in the second round, is an ultraprojectable 6-foot-7 righthander who already throws in the low 90s. Georgia Southern's Dove, a third-rounder, can throw in the mid-90s but lacks command. If he can put it all together, he has closer stuff.

St. Louis also grabbed three intriguing righthanders in the later rounds. Nathan Kopszywa (11th round) of tiny Crichton (Tenn.) College, has a 93-94 mph fastball and sharp slider. Polished California high school Ian Kennedy (14th) was a first-round possibility for the Cardinals, but they were able to wait because he's strongly committed to Southern California and advised by Scott Boras. Southern Cal's Anthony Reyes (15th) was considered a likely 2002 first-rounder before elbow problems ruined his last two seasons.

    Georgia Tech lefthander Kyle Bakker was a second-team All-American by Baseball America in 2002. He may have had an off season, but were there any other circumstances that caused him to drop to the 20th round in the draft?

    Shawn E. Davis
    San Antonio

Bakker also was a preseason first-team All-American entering 2003, and considering that team is selected by major league scouting directors, he was expected to go in the first couple of rounds in June. But other than beating Wake Forest's Kyle Sleeth 2-0 in a mid-April duel, he had few highlights.

After going 13-2, 3.14 as a sophomore and starring with Team USA last summer, Bakker went just 8-3, 4.35 this spring. He has an outstanding body at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, but he doesn't have plus velocity or a true big league out pitch. He tried to impress scouts by throwing harder, and the result was that he got hit harder. He's better off working in the mid-80s and relying on pinpoint command.

What happens with a lot of draftees is that their bonus expectations exceed what teams are willing to spend. There may have been some clubs willing to take Bakker in the first five or 10 rounds, but they likely decided he wouldn't be signable for slot money in that area, so he fell in the draft. It's not a bad gamble for the Braves, though don't expect Bakker to sign cheaply.

June 6, 2003

Could the Sammy Sosa hullabaloo be any more overplayed? Did we really need an ESPN two-hour special the next day? Yes, he should be suspended for a week or so. No, he shouldn't be executed or kept out of the Hall of Fame. My quick take is that he has slumped horribly and lost his confidence since Salomon Torres drilled him in his head, and he got caught after he looked for an illegal edge. But this isn't the first time he ever has broken a bat, so to think he's simply a cork-made player is just silly.

    What are the Cubs thinking? They drafted three of the top catchers in the draft with Michigan's Jake Fox, Florida State's Tony Richie and South Carolina's Landon Powell. Whom are they going to sign and whom are they going to let go? Are there enough places in the minors for all three to play? Does Powell slipping have anything to do with the fact that he tried to dupe the teams in 2000?

    Philip Greenberg
    Boulder, Colo.


    I notice that Landon Powell dropped to the 25th round to the Cubs. With that said, I feel Powell could be the sleeper of the draft, if signed. I also know that Powell has Scott Boras as an advisor and will want first- or second-round money for him to even considering signing. With that said, what do you think are the chances the Cubs sign Powell?

    C.J. Keller
    Prattville, Ala.

What happened to Powell, who now is advised by SFX rather than Boras, is that he told teams it would take $1 million to sign him, and clubs weren't going to pony that up because they considered closer to a fifth-rounder than a first-rounder. Powell didn't overwhelm the scouts I spoke to this spring. They thought he had put on too much weight since entering college and only will get heavier in years to come. They like his skills behind the plate but worry that they'll deteriorate if he continues to add pounds. Powell did shorten his stroke this year and tightened up his strike zone, but he also didn't show the power teams expected from someone who's 6-foot-3 and more than his listed 225 pounds.

He does have some potential, especially if he could get his weight more under control. But honestly, Powell isn't a better catching prospect than Cubs third-round pick Jake Fox or fourth-rounder Tony Richie. Fox is a superior hitter, though his defensive skills are average at best. Richie is the best receiver among the 2003 draft's catchers and has a better offensive track record than Powell.

I don't think Chicago's chances of signing Powell are very good. If he doesn't lower his bonus demands, they're nonexistent. And if the Cubs sign Fox and Richie, they don't really have room for Powell. I think he's an insurance pick, someone they plan to pursue if they aren't able to sign Fox and Richie. Chicago's weakest position, by far, in its system is catcher, and that's why they drafted nine backstops. The Cubs won't sign them all but they should be able to fortify their catching situation.

Also keep an eye on 47th-rounder Jefferies Tatford, a Louisiana high school product. He too is more of an insurance pick and won't be a cheap sign, but he's a 6-foot-3, 215-pound athlete with lefthanded power and arm strength.

    The Dodgers went pitching-heavy and high school-heavy with their draft, which is no surprise. But you said in Thursday's chat that Chad Billingsley was somewhat of a surprise. Can you give us some inside info on him? How do you like some of the hitters they took, such as Xavier Paul, Matt Kemp and Lucas May? The Dodgers also seemed to have gotten some value picks later on in the draft. Why did Derik Olvey and Matt Antonelli fall, and do you think they have a chance of signing either?

    Eric Olson
    San Diego

Billingsley wasn't an unknown prospect. There just wasn't a lot of buzz about him going in the first round and he projected more as a second- or third-rounder. He has a power arm, reaching 95 mph at times and also throwing a hard slider. The negatives on him are that he's not very projectable at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds and his pitches arrive on a flat plane.

Eric mentioned the top three hitters the Dodgers took. Paul, a fourth-round outfielder from a Louisiana high school, has been considered a top prospect since he was a sophomore. He's not very big at 5-foot-9, but he has the ability to hit for power and average, not to mention a low-90s arm. Kemp, a sixth-round Oklahoma prep outfielder, emerged right before the draft thanks to his athleticism and power/speed combination. He had been more known as a basketball player and is extremely raw. May, an eighth-rounder out of a Missouri high school, also needs some polish but shows nice actions at shortstop and has a chance to hit.

The Dodgers grabbed a few other interesting hitters in the later rounds. Florida third baseman Brett Dowdy (10th round), the first college player they selected, is a line-drive hitter who could be a nifty pro second baseman. High school catcher Tony Harper (11th) was the best hitter in Wisconsin and also has a strong arm. Grayson County (Texas) CC shortstop Andy LaRoche (39th) may be difficult to sign away from Rice, but he's an offensive middle infielder with solid defensive skills to boot. His father Dave made two all-star teams as a big league reliever, while his brother Adam is a Braves first-base prospect.

Olvey, an Alabama high school righthander taken in the 13th round, and Antonelli, a Massachusetts shortstop selected in the 19th, both would have gone in the first five rounds if the draft were based solely on talent. But Olvey has signed with Notre Dame and Antonelli with Wake Forest, and those commitments scared teams off. It's possible both would sign for third-round money.

    What are your thoughts on allowing teams to trade draft picks? I also remember Mark McGwire saying something about a rookie salary cap. I think that's a good idea as a way to keep naive young ballplayers and their money-hungry agents from holding teams hostage during negotiations.

    Dan Porter
    Boston

I don't have a problem with teams trading draft picks, though I'd limit deals to first-rounders only and for no more than one year in the future. That would allow clubs that believe they have to pass on players for financial reasons and take lesser, more signable prospects to otherwise maximize the value of their selections. However, I've spoken to baseball officials who fear that would give players more leverage to force small-revenue teams they don't want to play for to trade with high-revenue clubs that would spend more money.

I'm a free-market guy, so I'm not in favor of NBA-style mandatory slotted bonuses, which is what I believe Dan is pushing for. The one benefit from my standpoint is that the draft would do a much better job of promoting competitive balance, because teams would draft players purely based on ability and not at all on signability. But remember that the commissioner's office already strongly "recommends" bonuses for every pick in the first 10 rounds, and most teams toe the line. And also be careful what you wish for, because if clubs couldn't exceed bonus limits then several more talented players might go to college each year rather than turn pro. That would be great for college baseball, and I'm all for that, but it wouldn't make it easier for big league teams to land talent.

June 3, 2003

Ask BA is back. Really. We're finally done with our exhaustive predraft coverage, if only because the draft is just minutes away. I'll answer more of your questions in a draft chat after the early rounds this afternoon.

    When putting together the Draft 2003: Top 200 Prospects list, or any other list for that matter, are you taking a scout's approach of identifying talent or the journalist's approach of reporting the findings of your numerous professional contacts? In other words, do your lists represent your own analysis of players or are they your interpretation of the information from your sources? Thanks a lot.

    Jeremy Haber
    Brookline, Mass.

I'll speak for myself here, but I think my approach is similar to the rest of the staff. I'm not a scout, nor do I play one on TV. Josh Boyd and Allan Simpson, who attend some high school showcases, see more players in person than I run into at, say, the College World Series. I'm not going to pretend that I can look at a guy and detect a subtle flaw that will be fatal to his chances for major league stardom.

But while that would make ours more of a journalist's approach, our lists are more than repeating what we're told. They're our interpretation of the information, often a synthesis of conflicting reports. Also, for college players, I always check their statistics to see if they're dominating as much as their tools suggest they should. It's a big red flag if they're not.

    Any rumors on whom the Red Sox may be looking at in the early rounds of the June draft? I know that they are focusing more on college talent now, but given the number of early picks they have, will they be tempted to draft a high-ceiling high schooler?

    Ryan Vachon
    Washington, D.C.

I'll be very surprised if they take a high schooler with one of the early picks, but I can see them taking at least two in the first 10 rounds or so. The name we hear the most for the Red Sox at No. 17 is Baylor outfielder David Murphy, though we're getting late word that he might go earlier than we expected. In that case, Boston probably would look at a hitter along the lines of Louisiana State shortstop Aaron Hill. If they wanted a pitcher, they could hope Houston righthander Brad Sullivan or Young Harris (Ga.) JC lefthander Nick Markakis fell to them. At No. 32, I believe the Red Sox would like Sullivan's teammate, righthander Ryan Wagner, who might go right before that.

For our final first-round projections as of the wee hours earlier this morning, click here. And for what we've been hearing since then, check out our Draft Day Dispatches.

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