Ask BA: Who’s The Best Prospect In The Minors?
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By Jim Callis
May 23, 2003
Sorry for the nine days between Ask BAs, but the Draft Preview has been grueling as ever. Let me get to few quick questionsI'll even answer a couple of extra questions to assuage my guiltthen I'll return to writing up the second- and third-tier prospects from the South. We should be back to the normal Ask BA schedule next week.
One thing I've started to realize is that whenever scouts or teams talk about a player possibly having to shift to a new position down the road, he almost always winds up making the move. They aren't going to say something like that without having a concern, and that concern always seems to become reality.
As for Wood, however, no one has talked about him leaving shortstop. He's long and lean at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, and he's a flashy defender with the arm, hands and feet for the position. The question with him had been a lack of strength, but he worked out diligently after his junior season and has been crushing the ball all spring. Wood's all-around game makes him a possible first-round or sandwich pick.
Pauly ranks third in NCAA Division I in ERA (1.25) and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (13.1), capping the regular season with complete-game victories in both his starts, including the clincher over Harvard in the Ivy League playoffs. A 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander, Pauly has seen his velocity surge from 83-84 when he enrolled to 93-95 this spring. His second pitch is a hard slider, and that combination could help him go as early as the supplemental first round.
There's plenty of interest in Smith, a draft-eligible sophomore who's batting .339 and leading the Gators with 16 homers and 60 RBIs. Not bad at all for someone who redshirted in 2001 and went just 1-for-13 last year. Smith is 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, and his long arms give him good leverage at the plate. A high school shortstop, he's solid defensively at first base and athletic enough to play on an outfield corner if needed. Add it all up, and he should get drafted in the first five rounds.
Jack's questions are always Tampa-related, and it took me a minute to understand his interest in Smith. Then I decided to check Smith's background and, sure enough, he played at Tampa's Jesuit High.
Guthrie is dominating Double-A, going 5-2, 1.56 in his first nine pro starts. Opponents are batting just .203 with no homers against him, and his strikeout-walk ratio is a nifty 32-10 in 58 innings. He's not blowing the ball by hitters, but they're not making good contact against his 90-92 mph sinker. He also throws a slider, curveball and changeup.
The 22nd overall pick in last year's draft, Guthrie signed a $4 million major league contract that included a $3 million bonus. Because he's already on the 40-man roster, the Indians won't hesitate to call him up when he's ready. My guess is that we'll see him no later than September, when rosters expand. He's already 24 and was billed as the most big league-ready of the 2002 draft prospects, and he's living up to that reputation even though he missed last summer while negotiating.
There's an adage that says it takes 10 pitching prospects to find two major league pitchers, so the Indians will sort through their impressive collection of arms over the next few years. As always, some will wash out, some will settle into the bullpen and some will become bona fide big league starters. GM Mark Shapiro no doubt will use some of those pitchers in trades to fill other holes in the organization. I don't think there's any obvious candidate for a deal, but looking at it from the other direction I'd say Guthrie is unlikely to be going anywhere.
James P. Tate
What's your take on Jose Contreras at this point? He did well at Triple-A but had another rough outing earlier this week. Do you still think he's the real deal, just a little nervous with pressure (and family matters) and not used to the bullpen? Or is it beginning to look like he was hyped way beyond his value? I've only seen him pitch once, in early April, and he was throwing 89-90 mph, not 96 mph. Just looking at the numbers, I can't recall a pitcher who strikes out that many batters also giving up so many walks and hits. On Tuesday, he got a double play and a strikeout in his first inning before imploding the next. I'm confused.
So are the Yankees, and so am I. In an Ask BA question from January, David expressed surprise that I had written that I would vote for Contreras as the No. 1 overall prospect on BA's Top 100 Prospects list. I ultimately ranked him second on my list, in part because Mark Teixeira has the potential for a significantly longer major league career, and Contreras would up at No. 6 on the Top 100 list.
At roughly the same time, I also wrote a column in which I pointed out that with the exception of Orlando Hernandez, the recent wave of Cuban pitchers had not fared well in the majors. I cited injuries and falsified ages as contributing factors, but neither seems to be the case with Contreras. The cultural adjustments are difficult, and the pressure of a $32 million contract may be part of the cause.
But I honestly can't say he was overhyped. He was the ace of the Cuban team, the best international pitcher of the world with a long track record of success and eight dominant innings against the Orioles in 1999. He did pitch a lot in Cuba, but he also was throwing in the mid-90s when he signed. Money aside, there wasn't a team in baseball that wouldn't have wanted to sign him and put him in its rotation.
The most obvious thing to me is that Contreras' velocity and especially his command haven't been as good as they were supposed to be this season. He had no problem throwing strikes in Triple-A, but against the Red Sox in his return he walked three batters (one intentional) in his second inning of work. That earned him his first big league loss and swelled his ERA to 15.63. Big Stein can't be happy.
May 14, 2003
We'll start today with some good news and bad news. The good news is as part of our massive draft coverage, I'll be doing a draft chat on Friday. The bad news is that between that and all the work I'm putting into our upcoming Draft Preview issue, Ask BA is going to fall by the wayside on Friday. I'll cover a lot more than three questions in the chat, however, so you'll still come out way ahead.
I think it's smart to not shy away from players who can rake but may be pudgy. However, I don't think you draft that player in the supplemental first round if there was only a modest chance another team would take the player in the first 10 rounds.
It will be interesting to see how baseball reacts to "Moneyball." There already was a bit of a furor over how Billy Beane and Co. came off in a New York Times excerpt, which was mild compared to a more recent Sports Illustrated excerpt and especially so compared to the book. Lewis is an acclaimed writer, but the parts of the book I've read seem very exaggerated and provide no counterbalance to his thesis that the Athletics are revolutionizing the art of talent acquisition. I touched on this briefly in my recent feature on teams with a heavy college draft approach.
Oakland assistant GM Paul DePodesta told me that "Moneyball" was an extreme characterization in which many of the people depicted, particularly Beane and himself, became caricatures. And while the A's do a lot of statistical analysis, DePodesta said it's not true that numbers are the driving force behind their draft decisions.
"The further away you get from the major leagues, the less weight stats can carry," DePodesta said. "If a guy plays in the big leagues for six years, I feel pretty good about analyzing his statistics. Triple-A, a little less, because there's always guys who succeed there but don't make it. And so on down the line. College is better than high school, sure. But even among the college ranks, the conditions are incredibly different. Schedule strength, ballparks-all those statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt. You have to take A ball with a grain of salt, let alone college."
The book is very unfair to former Oakland scouting director Grady Fuson, portraying him as ignorant and giving him no credit for drafting most of the players who are keys to the club's success: Eric Chavez (gasp! a high school first-rounder!), Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Fuson didn't want to discuss "Moneyball" when I spoke to him, but now that the book has been released he has responded.
"I can accept the fact that Billy feels caught off guard with the way he's perceived, and I do think he's sickened by the way things have come out, but this book can't be filled with 250 pages of mistruths," Fuson told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's far-fetched to say Billy 'made' us take Barry Zito. If I wanted to write a book I could talk about [Beane's decision to take] Ariel Prieto instead of Todd Helton or about how they didn't want me to take Eric Chavez. Billy never really went out and saw players, and that's fine and dandy, but I've never tried to take all the credit. I thought we were a team."
Paul's point about Jeremy Brown is a good one. While the A's may have seen some talent that others overlooked and were able to sign him as a supplemental first-rounder for a below-slot $350,000, they could have waited five or more rounds to taken him and landed him for a fraction of that price. He was an attractive sandwich pick because he came so cheaply and Oakland didn't have the money to sign true first-rounders with all seven of its first-round picks, but "Moneyball" doesn't explain that part of the process.
First, a few of clarifications. Last year, 50 of the first 100 picks were high schoolers and the prep crop was considered average rather than weak. Remember, picks two through eight all came from the high school ranks, and Jeremy Hermida, Scott Kazmir, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Denard Span, Jeff Francoeur and Sergio Santos all went later in the first round. That's just the first round. Last year's group was comparable to the 2003 high school class, though each had different strengths and weaknesses.
While there isn't any real buzz about the 2003 college crop, it's not bad. The position players aren't anything special, but they're better than the college bats from a year ago. The colleges also have pitching depth as well.
When we've written on several occasions this spring that it's going to be a heavy college draft at the top, it has been in the context of several teams adopting the philosophy that college players are preferable to high schoolersnot that the college talent pool is stronger than the high school group.
The Athletics and Red Sox have five picks each in the top 100, and those 10 likely all will be spent on college players. The Blue Jays, Padres and Rangers all have strong preferences for college players and each have three top 100 selections. That's nearly one-fifth of the top 100.
Where we originally though the 30 first-round picks might feature as many as 22 collegians, it now looks like it will be more balanced and have no more than 18 college players. As for the top 100, I'd expect 60-65 of the selections to come from colleges. One American League general manager told me he thinks we'll have a record number of college players drafted in the first five rounds.
The Jaguars are loaded with draft-eligible talent. We've discussed Weeks on several occasions, so I'll limit my comments here. He's the best position-player prospect in college and could go first overall to the Devil Rays. If that does happen, Southern will join Arizona State as the only schools ever to produce two No. 1 picks. The Jaguars' first, Danny Goodwin (1975, Angels), didn't exactly distinguish himself.
Beyond Weeks, Southern could have as many as 10 other draft picks. The second tier consists of righthanders Dewan Day and Damian Ursin and outfielders Andrew Toussaint and Marcus Townsend. Day, who's under control to the Blue Jays as a fifth-year senior, has an easy arm action and has touched 95 mph. Ursin, who's shorter than his listed 6 feet and physically resembles Tom Gordon, can bring 92-95 mph heat. Toussaint, a sophomore-eligible draftee who was a 10th-round pick out of high school by the Dodgers, has power and speed. Townsend has the highest ceiling of any Jaguars player outside of Weeks. He's still quite raw, but his raw power and speed are both plus-plus tools.
Other likely draft picks are third baseman Antoin Gray, who projects as an offensive second baseman in pro ball; outfielder Alfred Ard, who has strong package of tools but is unrefined; shortstop Fernando Puebla, a contact hitter with soft hands and a good arm in the field; first baseman Kevin Vital, a bad-bodied power hitter; and lefthander Vince Davis, who usually pitches in the mid-80s but has lots of life on his pitches and projection in his 6-foot-7 frame. One other possibility is righthander Justin Sanchez, who has pitched just two innings this spring but attracted interest during fall practice.
Southern hasn't been ranked despite its 45-5 record and .900 winning percentage (the best in NCAA Division I) for one simple reason: strength of schedule, or lack of it. Boyd Nation of the Boyd's World website calculates the Jaguars' schedule strength as 275th among the 287 Division I teams. The only regional-caliber team Southern has played is Lamar, which won that game 13-8. The Jaguars also had a game rained out against Louisiana State and cancelled a two-game set this week with Oklahoma State because head coach Roger Cador had commitments that wouldn't allow him to travel with the team.
Their schedule isn't really the Jaguars' fault. Playing in the Southwestern Athletic Conference kills their Ratings Percentage Index immediately. Thirty-five of Southern's games were SWAC regular-season or tournament contests, and they went 34-1 in those. The Jaguars don't have the budget to travel very far and find better opponents, and there's no incentive for good teams to visit Baton Rouge. Southern's strength of schedule leaves them with a mediocre RPI (Nation calculated their RPI as 67th-best, just ahead of 24-28 UCLA), so beating the Jaguars won't help an opponent very much while losing will be damaging.
Southern was 45-8 last year entering the NCAA playoffs, but still was the lowest seed and lost two straight games at its regional. It's just tough to beat quality opponents in the postseason when you haven't faced them during the regular season. To be fair, Southern is the only historically black college ever to have won a regional game and I can't imagine that anyone relishes facing them this year.
May 9, 2003
There are two birthday parties this weekend in the Callis household, and my head already is spinning from working on the college draft approach feature and our upcoming 2003 Draft Preview, so let's go right to the questions . . .
After leading Elkins High (Missouri City, Texas) to the national championship in 2002, Starling headed to Odessa (Texas) JC. Odessa didn't make it out of its conference tournament, finishing 34-23 overall, but Starling had a huge year. At the plate, he hit .420 (which currently ranks 25th in the nation among juco players) with 12 homers (tied for 18th) and 80 RBIs (second). He also stole 18 bases and had a 24-37 walk-strikeout ratio in 193 at-bats. He has a nice swing, obvious power and a right-field armnot bad for someone whose future almost certainly is on the mound.
As a pitcher this spring, Starling went 10-3 and ranked 15th nationally with a 2.22 ERA. He struck out 94 and walked just 22 in 85 innings. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he has a very nice pitcher's frame. Better yet, there's no projection required with Starling because he already has a tremendous arm. He usually worked at 92-94 mph for Odessa, reaching as high as 97, and made good progress with his changeup. His breaking ball is slurvy right now, and he'd be better off going with a slider rather than a curveball. Odessa coach Rick Zimmerman, who has won 1,030 games at the junior college level, says Starling is as good as any player he's ever had with the exception of his former ace at Trinidad State (Colo.) JC, Danny Jackson.
Word is that Starling wants to sign and that the Pirates would be happy to oblige him. The average fourth-round bonus last year was $252,000, though Starling went at the top of the round and the pick behind him, Devil Rays outfielder Wes Bankston, signed for $375,000. Pittsburgh offered him $300,000 last year, and I'm guessing it may take another $100,000 to get him. In a lot of cases when a draft-and-follow doesn't come to terms, teams become scared of his true signability, so it's possible Starling would slide in that case. But based on talent, he'd go somewhere in the third to fifth rounds.
First, a quick comparison of how they're faring this spring:
AVG OBP SLG BB SO PA Aubrey .432 .504 .714 21 10 226 Jackson .387 .549 .634 48 19 204 Sinisi .383 .469 .575 33 15 228
Those are three of the best college bats available, but based on what we've heard, we'd still rank them in the same order you've heard: Aubrey, Sinisi, Jackson. What's interesting is that all three of them likely could play different positions as pros, with Aubrey and Sinisi moving to left field and Jackson shifting to first base (where's he's played some this year) on a full-time basis. Scouts are concerned that Jackson has some kind of arm injury right now, as his throwing action looks terrible and his arm strength is well below average.
Aubrey projects to go in the first 10 or so picks, while Jackson probably won't go higher than the 21-30 range and may last until the second round. Sinisi factors between the two in terms of talent, but has three signability strikes against him: he's a sophomore, he's at Rice and he's advised by Scott Boras. If clubs become too wary of his price tag, he might not go in the first round.
Let's break out another chart to see how those three have started the season:
Level AVG OBP SLG BB SO PA Cota AAA .261 .361 .431 9 17 83 Doumit A+ .355 .408 .589 8 18 120 House Recovering from Tommy John surgery
Of course, House hasn't started at all as he's still on the road back from having his elbow rebuilt last September. He looked like a burgeoning offensive force when he was the low Class A South Atlantic League's co-MVP and batting champ in 2000, but he hasn't been as healthy or as productive since. Now 23, he has yet to hit in Double-A and was shaky defensively before he got hurt. It's hard to project him as a big league starting catcher these days.
I've never been a huge fan of Cota, who's already 24 and never has been a huge offensive threat in the minors. He's just OK behind the plate and it wasn't a good sign that he couldn't make the Pirates as a backup catcher this year. I like Craig Wilson's bat but he's not much of a backstop.
That leaves Doumit by process of elimination, and I do like him. A second-round pick in 1999, he's just 22 and has hit line drives everywhere he has been. He also has a good arm and moves well behind the plate. A back strain and broken pinky limited him to 116 games the previous two years, but he has stayed in one piece so far in 2003.
Doumit probably won't be big league-ready until mid-2005 at the earliest. Moving Kendall to another position won't necessarily help the Pirates, however. He's going to make $50 million over the next five years, and he doesn't produce nearly $10 million in value per season. But at least he's better than average for a catcher. As an outfielder, he'd be average at best.
May 6, 2003
Will Major League Baseball really expand to 12-team playoffs, adding two wild cards and a two best-of-three series in each league? Ten years ago, four teams made the postseason and that number could be tripled in the near future. Surprisingly, this time it's the players rather than the owners proposing radical change.
I'm not going to go all Chicken Little over this and start waxing nostalgic for the good ol' days, but I don't see the point. The Division Series don't exactly capture national attention, and another tier of playoffs isn't going to increase baseball's popularity. Giving the two division winners with the best records in each league a bye could turn out to be a punishment rather than a reward if they go flat during the off time. The only certain result of this proposal is that it will increase revenue for the owners (as well as the players), so there's no way they'll turn it down.
I've covered Cornell's baseball team the past two years and have had the privilege of seeing Chris Schutt develop into one of the Ivy League's most dominant pitchers this season. What are his draft prospects and pro potential? I've heard he could go as high as the third round. Does he project better than former Cornell product Erik Rico? And was he even getting attention heading into this season after a miserable sophomore year?
Only at Ask BA would we get not one but two Chris Schutt questions.
He's one of the most improved players in college baseball this season. As a sophomore in 2002, he went 1-3, 8.86 in 12 outings and had the same number of hits, walks and strikeouts (39 across the board) in 42 innings. He has done a complete turnaround as a junior, going 3-5, 1.89 in 10 games. His strikeout-walk ratio has soared to 89-23 in 62 innings, and opponents are hitting just .192 against him. In the most recent NCAA statistics release, which is through April 27 and thus a week behind his current stats, Schutt ranked eighth in strikeouts per nine innings and 27th in ERA. He's also batting .239-1-14 in 28 games as an outfielder.
Schutt has gone from anonymity to the top college prospect in New York. He's not especially big at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, and he's not overpowering. He does throw in the low 90s, but his best pitch is his breaking ball. At his size and age, he probably won't get much better from a physical standpoint, though he still could go around the fifth round of the June draft. Schutt obviously is a serious student if he's playing baseball at an Ivy League college, and if he doesn't convince scouts that he wants to sign this year, he could slide in the draft.
He has a higher pro ceiling than Rico, the Ivy League player of the year and a Blue Jays 22nd-round pick in 2002. Rico has decent to solid tools across the board and is currently batting .286-0-2 through 13 games with high Class A Dunedin.
Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Zumaya hadn't pitched much before suddenly flashing a 93-mph fastball as a senior at Bonita Vista High (Chula Vista, Calif.) in 2002. His velocity jumped again after he signed as a Tigers 11th-round pick, as he threw 94-97 mph in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He dominated the GCL with a 1.93 ERA, a 46-11 strikeout-walk ratio in 37 innings and a .163 opponent average. He has been no more hittable at low Class A West Michigan this year. He's 2-1, 1.69 after six starts, with a 56-12 K-BB ratio and .153 opponent average in 32 innings. He fanned 14 guys in seven shutout innings against Beloit last night.
Zumaya worked out with Barry Zito during the offseason, and one of his points of emphasis upon rejoining the Tigers was raising his arm angle and repeating his delivery. If he can learn to do that, he'll improve the consistency of his curveball and changeup, both of which are still in the developmental stages. Those secondary pitches will become more important as he progresses through the minors.
He was born on Nov. 9, 1984, and at 18 he's one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. He's 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and still growing, so he could add more velocity in time.
Shealy obliterated baseballs throughout 2002, hitting 23 homers as a University of Florida senior before signing with the Rockies as an 11th-round pick. Then he was named Pioneer League MVP after batting .368 and leading the circuit in longballs (19), RBIs (70), on-base percentage (.497) and slugging (.714) after signing with the Rockies as an 11th-round pick. But those numbers really have to be taken in context. At both Florida and Casper, he was playing in a hitter's park in a hitter's league. He also was 23 by the end of the season, so he was very old for Rookie ball.
Shealy is a one-dimensional player, though his offense is an intriguing dimension. His bat is going to have to carry him to the majors and he fits only at first base, which eventually will be a problem with Todd Helton awaiting him in Coors Field.
The reason you haven't heard much about Shealy recently is that he has yet to take the field in 2003. The Rockies had planned on jumping him to high Class A Visalia, but he injured his left knee during a running drill on his first day in minor league camp. He had arthroscopic surgery to repair a slight cartilage tear, and the hope is that he'll join Visalia before the end of May.
May 2, 2003
Sorry for the late posting of Ask BA today, but that happens now and then during draft season. If the Red Sox and Twins will stop mesmerizing me with six-run rallies against each other, I'll get to some questions . . .
Red Bank, N.J.
We're in the midst of canvassing the baseball world on this topic and several other draft-related issues. The consensus best all-around catcher is Jarrod Saltalamacchia from Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) High. Saltalamaccchia, who's 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, is very athletic for a backstop. "As far as the total package," an American League scouting director said, "he's the guy." He has bat speed, arm strength and power potential. A Florida State signee, he hit .391-1-11 in 23 at-bats for third-place Team USA at the World Junior Championships last summer.
Saltalamacchia projects as a second- or third-round pick, especially with the expected emphasis on college players in the 2003 draft. The best bet for a catcher going in the first round appears to be Toledo's Mitch Maier.
Maier, who's 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, also is very athletic for a catcher and saw time in the outfield in the Cape Cod League last summer. His hitting ability and offensive approach are his best attributes. Maier is having a huge year, batting .452-7-49 with 23 steals (in 26 attempts) through 39 games. His 27-7 walk-strikeout ratio has to have caught the eye of the Athletics, who pick 25th, 26th and 32nd. Though he has good tools behind the plate, he has thrown out just eight of 55 basestealers (15 percent).
Clark didn't make our Brewers Top 30 list in our 2003 Prospect Handbook, though if he keeps this up he'll hit his way into the 2004 edition. A 17th-round pick in 2000 from UNC Charlotte, he's batting .374-11-27 through 27 games.
The downside is that Clark is 23 and he's repeating the California League, where he batted .244-19-78 in 93 games last year. He's also playing in one of the best hitter's parks and hitter's leagues in the minors. So his onslaught alone doesn't make him a top prospect by any means. He is making more contact than he has in the past, striking out once every five plate appearances after fanning once every four in the past. Clark has been moved permanently to left field after making 87 errors in 214 games at the hot corner.
Has he improved his prospect status with his hot opening month? No doubt. But it's hard to get excited about him until he shows he can keep mashing at higher levels.
Missouri City, Texas
Shearer certainly has been noticed while playing for the defending national high school champions. The Major League Scouting Bureau rated his overall future potential as a solid 53 (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and he figures to go in the first five or 10 rounds of the draft in June. Of course, that's not as high as Loney went in 2002, when he was the 19th overall pick and then hit .350-5-35 with more walks (31) than strikeouts (28) in his 64-game pro debut.
Shearer, who has committed to Texas-San Antonio, threw two no-hitters early in the season. He usually works at 85-88 mph and has a so-so breaking ball. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, there's a lot of projection left in his body. He also has had a big year with the bat, and his power and arm are plus tools for a position player. He's more of a prospect as a pitcherthough that also was the consensus on Loney before the Dodgers made him a full-time first baseman.