Midseason Top 50: Injury Can’t Knock Buxton From No. 1
It has been a dangerous year to be a top prospect. Injuries happen every year, but the 2014 season has been worse than usual. The top prospect in baseball, Twins […]
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By Jim Callis
April 30, 2004
Ten days ago, I checked in on the hottest team in the minors, which was the 10-0 Kinston Indians of the high Class A Carolina League. Now it's time to find the coldest club, and we're headed back to the CL, where the Frederick Keys are 4-15. (In case you're wondering, they've only played Kinston three times, and yes, they dropped all three games.).
Frederick, an Orioles affiliate, isn't wanting for talent. The Keys rotation features five prospects, but they've combined for just one victory: Ryan Hannaman (0-1, 8.49), Paul Henry (0-1, 5.40), Don Levinski (0-3, 7.27), Rommie Lewis (0-3, 4.91) and Richard Stahl (1-1, 1.84). Third baseman Tripper Johnson is the best position prospect on the roster, and he's off to a good start at .250/.353/.536 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 18 games.
San Ramon, Calif.
While we're on the subject of California two-way stars, let's throw Crespi High's (Encino) shortstop/righthander Trevor Plouffe into the mix as well. Of the four players, Mission Bay High (San Diego) shortstop/righty Matt Bush will be the top pick. He's the consensus best high school position player in the draft and a cinch first-round pick. Though Bush has a low-90s fastball and a plus curveball, teams covet the package he offers at shortstop because he's a smooth fielder and also surprisingly strong at the plate.
Plouffe will go next, possibly as high as the supplemental first round. Entering the spring, teams were split on which way to use him as a pro. But he almost certainly will be drafted as a shortstop, despite showing a fastball that has reached 93 mph. He has improved physically and is running better, and his five-tool potential at shortstop can't be ignored in a draft that's short on position players.
Lofgren hasn't had a banner year at Serra High (San Mateo), Barry Bonds' alma mater, but he's one of the safest bets to hit among high school prospects in the draft. He's a lefthanded pitcher with solid stuff and a lean, projectable 6-foot-3 frame, but his bat speed and loft power will make him a pro outfielder. He looks like a second-round choice at this point.
Bergesen, a righthander/outfielder at at Foothill High (Pleasanton), will stick to the mound as a pro. He has a low-90s fastball, and his changeup ranks ahead of his slider as his second-best pitch. He projects as a third-rounder.
All four players likely would play both ways if they made it to college. But Bush (who has committed to San Diego State), Plouffe (Southern California), Lofgren (Santa Clara) and Bergesen (San Diego) don't figure to get to campus.
Broxton, 19, was No. 14 on our Dodgers Top 30 in the 2004 Prospect Handbook, in part because he pitched just 37 innings last year while battling wrist tendinitis and a biceps strain. He would move up considerably in our Dodgers rankings if we were to revise them today, because he has very good stuff and is as hot as any pitcher in the minors right now.
A 2002 second-round pick out of a Georgia high school, Broxton has a heavy 92-94 mph sinker and a sharp mid-80s slider. That combination has been too much for high Class A Florida State League hitters this year, as he has gone 3-1, 1.08 with 36 strikeouts versus four walks in 25 innings. Opponents are batting just .148 against him.
Broxton has the potential to be a frontline starter. To stay in the rotation, he'll have to refine his changeup and continue to show improved command. If that doesn't happen, his fastball-slider combination could make "The Bull" a dominant reliever. Broxton's weight has been an issue, as he carried 277 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame at one point in 2003, but he's currently listed at 240.
Thompson, 22, set his stage for his jump to Double-A last fall, when he went to the Arizona Fall League as a replacement for righthander Josh Kinney, who hurt his shoulder. Though he had just 71 innings of pro experience, including just six in high Class A, he posted a 1.59 ERA in nine AFL appearances.
He's a sinker-slider pitcher. Thompson's two-seam fastball can reach the low-90s, and his slider is the best in the system. He's still working on his changeup, having rarely thrown one before instructional league last fall. Coming into 2004, he projected as a middle reliever, but in April he has shown that he might be more than that.
April 27, 2004
Three players with minor league baseball experience went in the NFL draft over the weekend. UCLA defensive back Matt Ware, a third-round pick of the Eagles, signed with the Mariners as a 21st-round choice in 2001. He hit .294 in 14 games as an outfielder in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2002-03. Both the Vikings (2004) and Padres (2000) made Tulane running back Mewelde Moore a fourth-round selection. Also an outfielder, he batted .210-1-12 in 50 Rookie-level Pioneer League games from 2001-03. The Mariners and Padres knew they were taking a flier on both athletes, figuring they'd eventually lose them to the NFL.
Louisiana State quarterback Matt Mauck, a Broncos seventh-rounder, originally tried to make baseball his full-time career. He signed with the Cubs as a 1997 sixth-round pick out of Jasper (Ind.) High, Scott Rolen's alma mater. But after hitting .228-12-107 in 215 games as a catcher and third baseman, Mauck gave up on baseball in June 2000. Three years later, he led the Tigers to a share of the national championship.
West was a full-time DH and third-string catcher at Arizona State, and when the Red Sox signed him as a seventh-round pick last June they immediately converted him to catcher. He was Boston's player of the year at short-season Lowell, though his numbers (.280/.369/.398 with four homers and 43 RBIs in 72 games) weren't spectacular. I left him off our Boston Top 30 list in the 2004 Prospect Handbook, but did put him atop the organization's minor league depth chart at first base.
Skipped a level to high Class A Sarasota, where the Red Sox have concentrated much of their prospect depth, West has been the most dangerous hitter in the Florida State League in the first two weeks of the season. He's hitting .510/.519/.941 with five homers and 14 RBIs, topping the FSL in all those categories except for RBIs, where he's one off the lead. Boston drafted him for his raw power and on-base percentage, and that's what he's giving them right now. The Red Sox also love West's gamer makeup. He'll strike out and he's a below-average runner, but he's not a baseclogger and should be able to play a decent first base. If he continues to develop, West could become another Kevin Millar.
The biggest concern about Jacobs does show up in his vital statisticshis birthdate of October 9, 1976. While he led the Cal League in batting (.357), on-base percentage (.433) and slugging (.576) last year, he was extremely old for high Class A at age 26. He has continued to produce in Double-A, hitting .339/.377/.491 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 44 games over the last two years.
Why is he only just getting to Double-A at his age? Because he began his pro career as a lefthanded pitcher. A two-way player who led Cal State Fullerton with a .389 average in 1998when his teammates included Reed Johnson and Aaron RowandJacobs went in the 13th round to the Angels that June. In four years as a pitcher in the Anaheim and Arizona systems, he went 10-13, 5.49 and topped out in high Class A before being released after the 2001 season.
Jacobs hooked up with the Astros for 2002, but they released him at the end of spring training. That led him to Long Beach in the independent Western League, where he became a full-time outfielder and hit from the start. He led the Western League in batting (.380) and RBIs (91) while slugging 18 homers in 85 games. The Mariners signed him in September 2002 and he hasn't stopped mashing.
Jacobs has a good arm and can play a decent corner outfield, but it keeps coming back to his age. He's 27 now and should dominate Double-A. If he can put up another huge year, it will be a lot easier to believe in him. But he leveled off after his promotion last year, hitting for average but not power in the Texas League, and I wanted to see more before I put him on our Seattle Top 30 list.
Biola (Calif.) University already has produced a pair of big league relievers in the Worrell brothers, and Klatt could be next in line. Drafted by the Padres in 38th round last June on the recommendation of area scout Jason McLeod (now director of scouting administration for the Red Sox), Klatt went 2-3, 2.12 in his pro debut, leading Pioneer League relievers with 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings. In 30 innings, he had an almost unfathomable 51-3 K-BB ratio.
This year at low Class A Fort Wayne, Klatt has been unhittable again. He has gone 2-0, 0.82 in nine appearances, allowing just three hits and two walks while fanning 16. He has legitimate stuff, starting with a consistent 91-92 mph fastball that has plenty of life. His slider isn't as dependable, but at times it's an above-average pitch.
April 23, 2004
The draft is very light this year in terms of position players, but scouts got some good news on that front on Wednesday. Redan High (Decatur, Ga.) shortstop Chris Nelson played his first game in the field after blowing out his elbow last summer and having Tommy John surgery in September. The first three defensive plays of the game all came to him, and he handled them fine. Nelson has the all-around ability to become a first-round pick in June if he can convince scouts that his elbow is sound and he won't have any long-term problems. He also was a talented righthanded pitcher before the surgery.
After reading your discussion of pitchers seeing their velocity drop after turning pro, I got curious again about Bryan Bullington. The Pirates ascribed his drop last year to the long layoff after his final college season. I see this year he hasn't allowed an earned run in two starts, but he has only one strikeout in 11 innings. I haven't read anything about his velocity. Has his stuff rebounded, and if not, is it still expected to? Or did the Pirates spend the No. 1 overall pick in 2002 on another Brian Meadows?
Silver Spring, Md.
When the Pirates took Bullington with the first choice in 2002, he was coming off a junior season at Ball State when he pitched at 92-94 mph and touched 95-96 with his fastball and also showed a nasty slider. He didn't sign until October that year, so he didn't get to ease into pro ball that summer. In 2003, he went straight from a big league camp to minor league camp to low Class A Hickory, where he had to pitch in a five-day rotation and throw bullpens in between for the first time.
He did OK statistically, going 13-5, 2.52 in 25 games (24 starts) between Hickory and high Class A Lynchburg. Opponents hit .236 with eight homers against Bullington, who posted a 113-38 strikeout-walk ratio in 143 innings. But his stuff wasn't what it had been the year before. Bullington mostly pitched in the high 80s and topped out at 90 mph, while his slider lost some of its bite. Wilbur is correct when he says that the Pirates attributed the slippage to his long layoff.
The Pirates say Bullington's stuff has started to rebound in his first two starts at Altoona, and they believe it will come all the way back. In his first two starts at Altoona this year, his fastball sat at 90-91 mph with a high of 93. His slider is short and tight again, and he's commanding both pitches well. He's still working on his changeup and curveball, though the change projects as a solid average pitch down the road. Bullington has physically matured and is in tremendous shape, which has helped his cause.
The odd thing, as Wilbur pointed out, is that Bullington has just one strikeout this year. He has been stingy with baserunners, permitting just six singles, a double and three walks, but he certainly hasn't missed many bats. I think that's just an anomaly, as Bullington averaged 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings last year with lesser stuff.
Round Rock, Texas
Howell is a lefty with one of the best curveballs in college baseball, and he began his college career at Southern California, where Zito finished his, so that's where those comparisons come from. Here's how they stack up against each other as juniors:
Howell is having a better statistical year than Zito did, but he won't go as high as Zito did in the draft, which was ninth overall to Oakland. Zito had a considerably stronger frame and his fastball was a bit firmer. The consensus on Howell right now is that he's a second-rounder, but if he keeps pitching like this he could factor into the supplemental first round or the back half of the first round. With more teams looking for polished college players with a track record of performance, that won't hurt Howell either. What he lacks in velocity he makes up for in movement, and if he couldn't cut it as a starter it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't be a good lefty specialist in the majors.
Howell was a second-round pick out of a Sacramento high school in 2001 by the Braves, and his stock dipped some after he posted a 6.27 ERA as a freshman with the Trojans. It bounced back last year, when he emerged as the Longhorns' No. 1 starter by season's end.
I've written about Szymanski in my last two columns in the magazine, the first detailing the lack of position players in this year's draft and Princeton's chances of having two first-round picks, and the second breaking down the seven high school players from the Texas draft class of 2001 who have a chance to be first-rounders three years later. He's an athletic, switch-hitting center fielder with an enticing combination of power and speed.
Szymanski is one of the top four position players available, along with Mission Bay High (San Diego) shortstop Matt Bush, Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew, Oklahoma State third baseman Josh Fields. (An interesting aside: None of the three college guys has been seen with wood bats, because Drew hasn't played summer ball while Fields and Szymanski have had football commitments.) There's no consensus on what order those four will be picked, but with the scarcity of bats and the tremendous depth in arms available, all four should be gone before the Cardinals pick. The teams who take position players early still should be able to find a good pitching value in the second round, much as the Blue Jays did last year by taking Louisiana State shortstop Aaron Hill at No. 13 and Florida International righthander Josh Banks at No. 50.
Larish is heading in the other direction. In our Early Draft Preview, we listed him as the No. 4 overall prospect, but he won't go nearly that high after slumping as a junior. He hit .372/.528/.697 with 18 homers and 95 RBIs in 65 games in 2003, then led Team USA with eight homers and 23 RBIs in 102 at-bats with wood last summer. This spring, however, he has plummeted to .272/.366/.408 with two homers and 31 RBIs in 36 games. Scouts say his swing hasn't looked as fluid as it did in 2003.
Unless he immediately regains his sophomore form, Larish will be available at No. 19. His bat is what made him a prospect, and because it has gone into hibernation I wouldn't pop him that high. Where he goes in the draft will depend on how he plays in the next six weeks and how easy he'll be to sign if he drops.
April 20, 2004
The hottest team in the minors right now is the Kinston Indians, who are off to a 10-0 start in the high Class A Carolina League. The K-Tribe boasts the CL leaders in batting (catcher Ryan Garko, .457), runs (outfielder Nathan Panther, 10), doubles (Garko, five), triples (third baseman Pat Osborn, two), homers (Panther, four), on-base percentage (Garko, .500) and slugging (Osborn, .839). On the pitching side, Kinston players top the league in victories (Dan Denham and Brian Slocum, two each), saves (Ryan Prahm, three) and strikeouts (Fausto Carmona, 17).
Outside of Prahm, a 24-year-old originally signed as a nondrafted free agent, those guys are all prospects, yet another sign of the strength of the Cleveland system and the hope for the Indians' future.
Battle, the Yankees' third-round pick last June out of a suburban Atlanta high school, was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma in his left ribcage in July. He has beaten the cancer, completing chemotherapy treatments in December. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is often vilified, but it should be noted that he went out of his way to do everything possible to help Battle, including taking care of medical payments and bringing him to the World Series last fall.
When I did our annual Draft Report Cards last fall, I rated Battle as the fifth-best athlete in the entire 2004 draft. His speed, a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, is his best tool, and his raw power and arm are also strengths. He's also incredibly raw and hasn't faced much quality competition, so he's going to be a long-term project. Battle is an ultimate high-risk, high-reward player in that he's a tremendous athlete but there are also big-time questions about his bat. The prospect wasteland is littered with guys with the same profile.
Battle is currently in extended spring training, where he would have gone even if he hadn't been sidetracked by cancer. Come June, he'll either return to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he hit .208/.255/.270 with 33 strikeouts in 27 games last summer, or head to short-season Staten Island.
Who do you see as the next third baseman in Arizona after Shea Hillenbrand's contract is up in two years? Chad Tracy, Brian Barden or Jamie D'Antona?
D'Antona is off to a great start, batting .326/.380/.652 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 11 games at Lancaster. He's accustomed to putting up big numbers, setting Wake Forest's career home run record with 58 and tying for the short-season Northwest League homer crown with 15 last summer after signing as a second-round pick.
He has the best power in the system, with the strength and bat speed to knock the ball out of the park to all fields. His swing can get long at times, which can hamper his ability to make contact, so he'll have to watch that as he rises through the minors. He has a very strong arm, but his range and hands are limited and he'll likely have to move to first base before he reaches the majors.
If he continues to tear up the Cal Leagueand he's playing in a very hitter-friendly ballpark in a very hitter-friendly leaguea midseason promotion is a possibility. But Tracy currently is in Triple-A and Barden is in Double-A, so something would have to give before D'Antona would move up.
I think Tracy could at least match Hillenbrand's production right now, and at a fraction of Hillenbrand's $2.6 million salary. But I'll go off the board and project Scott Hairston as Arizona's third baseman of the future. He's the best all-around hitter in the system but doesn't figure to stick at his current defensive position, second base. He'd fit better at the hot corner and has enough bat for the position.
Vick, who would become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft, was eligible for 2000 draft. Baseball players at four-year colleges must be at least a junior or at least 21 within 45 days of the draft to be selected. But athletes who aren't playing baseball at a four-year institution also are fair game, and Vick fell into that category.
Vick hadn't played baseball since he was 14 and was almost certainly headed to the NFL, but the Rockies figured it was worth taking a 30th-round gamble on his sheer athleticism. Vick showed some interest in signing, but he had to attend summer school to retain his football eligibility.
Teams have to turn in information to Major League Baseball on any player they might draft, and there's usually a handful of guys submitted each year who aren't eligible. If they still happen to be selected, those picks are voided quickly after the draft. There's no way an ineligible player can be drafted and signed.
April 16, 2004
It's Opening Day, right? I mean, nothing else counts except for Red Sox vs. Yankees, if the avalanche of media hype is any judge. There's no denying it's a heated rivalry, and it didn't even slow down during the offseason, but it's April, everyone. Even if one team pulls off a sweep this weekend, there still will be another 150 games to be played.
What's the deal with Bobby Basham? He's not listed on the rosters of any of the Reds' farm clubs. Is he hurt, maybe explaining how he went from unhittable in 2002 to awful last year?
Basham followed up a breakout 2002 with a terribly disappointing 2003. He went from dominating low Class A hitters to getting pounded in Double-A, and he didn't look like the same pitcher. His fastball dropped from the low 90s to the mid-80s, his slider lost its sharpness and his delivery wasn't as fluid. The Reds shut him down with a tired arm in July, and doctors weren't able to find any reason for his problems. He's working on a shoulder rehab program and throwing on the side for 10-15 minutes at this point.
Howington, the 14th overall pick in the 1999 draft, has better stuff than most lefthanderswhen he's right. He'll show an 89-93 mph fastball with good life, a solid changeup, a cutter and a curveball. The problem is that he hasn't been right very often. He had his elbow arthroscoped in 2001, battled shoulder tendinitis in 2002 and pitched in the mid-80s at times last year. The Reds left him off their 40-man roster this offseason, yet no one gambled on Howington in the Rule 5 draft. He's currently in extended spring training, just trying to get back to full speed. His velocity is climbing back up and he has been throwing his curve for strikes.
I'll even throw in a free Chris Gruler update, too. Gruler, the No. 3 overall pick in 2002, came down with a sore shoulder in instructional league that fall. After just three starts last April, he needed season-ending arthroscopic surgery to repair tears in his labrum and rotator cuff. His rehab is going well and is ahead of schedule, but there's no concrete timetable as to when he (or Basham or Howington) will return to the mound. The Reds are optimistic that all three can regain their previous stuff.
This does happen a lot, though it's also true that pitchers will regain their "amateur" velocity after they have a year or two to adjust to pro ball. There are several reasons why pitchers see their velocity drop, one of which is that the roughly 140-game seasons are much longer than to what they're accustomed. Even the short-season levels, which run from 56-76 games, require an adjustment. Many of the pitchers at those levels have just signed and are coming off their own high school and college seasons, so they're going past the 100-game threshold for the first time.
It's even tougher to adapt to the five-man rotation. Most amateur pitchers are used to starting once a week, and that's a huge change. I was discussing this with John Manuel, BA's assistant managing editor, and he immediately brought up what Long Beach State ace Jered Weaver went through last summer with Team USA. After a two-week layoff from the end of the college season, Weaver threw 89-91 mph. When he made his next two starts on four days of rest, his fastball sat at 86-88. Team USA skipped his next start, giving him nine days off before he took the mound again. When he did, he pitched consistently in the low 90s and topped out at 96.
Amateur pitchers also may have flaws in their deliveries that pro teams will correct in order to reduce the risk of injury. When this happens, the pitcher may take some time to get comfortable and throw as hard as he did before. And as Tom mentions, there's more of an emphasis on pitching rather than just throwing, so some guys do dial down their fastballs to throw more and better strikes.
I don't think steroids are much of an issue, however. The NCAA has random drug testing at its regionals, super regionals and College World Series, and I don't believe anyone ever has tested positive for steroids. I'm not naïve to enough to think that no amateur pitchers are using steroids. But I also don't think there's a wave of pitchers using steroids through the end of their amateur careers, then immediately cycling off of them and escaping detection.
I almost put Bacon on the bottom of our Cubs Top 30 Prospects list 2004 Prospect Handbook, but in the end I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Though he has supporters in the Cubs organization, I'm just not convinced he's going to hit enough to be effective in the majors.
Bacon was a 16th-round pick in 2001 out of Florida A&M, where he led NCAA Division I in stolen bases per game (1.54) as a junior in 2000, breaking Vince Coleman's school record with 74 swipes. A righthanded hitter for the Rattlers, he converted to switch-hitting as a pro and spent 2001 and 2002 at short-season Boise. One of the fastest players in the minors, he led the high Class A Florida State League in OBP (.392) while ranking second in the league in steals (71 in 83 attempts). He also tied a league record with six steals in a 14-inning game. Bacon hit .269 with a .372 slugging percentage overall, still having more success against lefties (.319/.429) than righties (.251/.351).
For the most part, Bacon is a slap hitter. He drew 63 walks last year in the FSL, but pitchers at higher levels aren't going to be afraid to come after him if he can't make them pay. He also was very old for high Class A at 24, which gave him a significant advantage. Now 25, he's very old for Double-A, where he hit .261/.304/.346 with seven steals in his first six games this year. I like him more than the Esix Sneads of the world, but until Bacon shows that he can hit the ball with more authority, I can't get too excited about him.
April 13, 2004
Last year, Franklin Gutierrez put himself on the prospect map by bashing six homers in six games to open the season at high Class A Vero Beach. This season's hot home run hitter doesn't have quite as much upside. Double-A Carolina third baseman Joe Dillon is the first minor leaguer to smack four longballs in 2004 after taking last season off.
Dillon, now 28, set a Texas Tech record with 33 homers in 1997, the same year the Royals drafted him in the seventh round. He last played in 2002, seeing time in Double-A and Triple-A for the Twins.
I must admit that when this question came in, I didn't know anything about Julio Pimentel. He pitched very well in his 2004 debut for Columbus, posting a line of 5-5-1-1-1-6.
Pimentel arrived at a Dodgers tryout in the Dominican Republic last summer as an outfielder, and he showed well. Then they had him throw off the mound, where he was raw but displayed arm strength and nice life on his fastball. After his representative shopped him around to other clubs, Pimentel signed with Los Angeles in July for $70,000.
DSL pitching coach Victor Baez receives credit for quickly refining Pimentel into a pitcher. He now throws his fastball at 90-93 mph and a hard downer curveball at 80-83 mph. His changeup is still coming along but has made progress. Pimentel is physically strong at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and he throws strikes.
Pimentel earned the three-level jump to the South Atlantic League by working hard and by holding his own in spring training, particularly in a night intrasquad game against fellow righty prospect Jonathan Broxton. Now that we all know more about him, he's definitely worth monitoring.
I'm not trying to pick on Mike, a frequent Ask BA contributor who also got the first question in for Will Kimmey's Defend The Poll chat today. But Everts' selection ahead of Kazmir and Hamels in the 2002 draft was merited at the time, even if they have surpassed him since. There were several scouting directors who ranked Everts ahead of his Cypress Falls High (Houston) teammate Kazmir. While Kazmir is a lefty and has better pure stuff, Everts was more projectable and had a sounder delivery. With Hamels, there were questions about his long-term health after he broke the humerus in his left arm while pitching as a sophomore. The Expos drafted Everts fifth overall because they loved what he brought to the table, and his $2.5 million bonus was not a discount.
Teams unanimously preferred Everts as a pitcher, but had he come out of the draft as a shortstop he would have gone in the top three rounds. There were scouts who believed that after B.J. Upton, who went No. 2 overall to the Devil Rays, Everts projected better than any other high school shortstop. (Sergio Santos, Arizona's first-round pick, is a better hitter but likely will have to switch positions.) Everts had switch-hitting ability, plus speed and very good defensive tools, including his strong arm.
It's too early to think about moving Everts off the mound, even if he struggles this year. He has one of the best curveballs in the minors, a plus changeup and a solid average fastball at 88-92 mph. He should develop more velocity as he matures physically. Bear in mind that he's still very young for a 2002 high school draftee, as he won't turn 20 until August. He just needs more consistency with the command of his pitches, and at times his curve can break so much that it fools umpires.
Everts isn't far away from having three plus pitches. Once he gets stronger and more aggressive, he'll take off. If he ever does move to shortstop, he'll also have to adjust to at least a two-year layoff from hitting and to seeing a much higher quality of pitching than he ever did in high school.
I wrote a column last winter about Koonce's magical 2003. He got married before the season, attended his first big league camp, made it to Triple-A 10 years after he first signed, led the minors in homers, won the Pacific Coast League MVP award, helped Sacramento win the league title, made his major league debut, collected his first big league hit with a double off Rafael Soriano and starred for Team USA's ill-fated Olympic qualifying club. Not bad at all for a guy who got released in 1997 after hitting .249 in three seasons at the bottom of the Tigers system.
This year hasn't been as rosy, at least not yet. Oakland's Scott Hatteberg's .725 OPS in 2003 was the second-worst among regular first baseman in the majors, so there was an opening for Koonce. But the Athletics signed Eric Karros as a free agent, and Koonce didn't make the big league club despite hitting .357/.471/.607 in 28 spring at-bats.
Instead, he was sent back to Sacramento, where he'll have to deal with his rival as the best hitting prospect in the Athletics system, fellow first baseman Dan Johnson. Koonce will split time between first base and DH once he recovers from a sore back. Currently on the River Cats disabled list, he's expected back by the end of the week.
Other teams are well aware of Koonce, who has legitimate power and fine on-base skills, even if he's older than the typical prospect. My guess is that the Athletics will determine whether he or Johnson is their first baseman of the (very near) future, and deal whoever loses out. Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta, who was Billy Beane's assistant in Oakland, knows all about Koonce. He also has a need for a first baseman who would allow Shawn Green to move back to the outfield and push light-hitting Dave Roberts out of the lineup.
April 9, 2004
Much to my horror, I've discovered that I had the wrong order for the supplemental first-round picks in the draft when I listed them in January. I thought they were based on the quality of the players lost, as determined by the Elias rankings, but that only applies to determining where the picks go for clubs who have signed multiple free agents. In reality, the supplemental picks simply mirror the regular draft order, which is based on reverse order of the previous year's standings (alternating by league, for the final time this year).
So I'll post the draft order one more time, this time with a guarantee that it's correct. Here's the basic draft order for each round:
And here are all of the compensation picks:
As I finish this late-night edition of Ask BAa birthday party involving 10 rambunctious first-graders tends to eat up a big part of the dayI see that Casey Daigle (see the last edition) has finished his first major league start earlier then planned. He looked more like the minor league Daigle than the spring-training Daigle, posting this line against the Cardinals: 2 2/3 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, 5 HR.
Longtime friend of BA Ed Price of the East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.) reports that the last pitcher to yield five homers without getting nine outs was the Cubs' Steve Stone in a July 9, 1974 loss to the Reds.
Pitching against Jupiter, the Marlins' Florida State League affiliate, Reyes gave up seven hits (including a homer) and four runs in his first pro start, and he also didn't walk a batter.
The 22-year-old Reyes is my favorite sleeper in the Cardinals system, and it's somewhat amazing that he qualifies as a sleeper. As a Southern California freshman in 2000, he outpitched teammate Mark Prior at times and was touted as a possible No. 1 overall pick for the 2002 draft. But he came down with elbow tendinitis in 2002 and dropped to the 13th round, then declined to sign with the Tigers. He had more elbow problems with the Trojans last spring, and the Cardinals were able to sign him as a 15th-rounder.
When Reyes was going good, he threw consistently in the low 90s and had a hard slider. He signed too late to make his pro debut last year, but he flashed that stuff again in instructional league. If he gets back to where he once was, Reyes can provide the Cardinals with some much-needed quality pitching.
Like Casey Daigle, Mike Wuertz turned in a spring-training performance (1.15 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, .200 opponent average) very out of character with what he had done throughout his minor league career (4.41 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, .273 opponent average). To me, the 857 innings in the minors are more meaningful than the 16 in the Cactus League. Wuertz wouldn't have made the Cubs had Mark Prior not been injured.
As a 25-year-old righty with average stuff, Wuertz doesn't have a high ceiling. He had a 90-93 mph fastball in 2000, but it dipped to the high 80s the following season and never bounced back. His best pitch is a slider, and he also throws a changeup.
But if he throws enough strikesand he did make strides doing so last year while going 3-9, 4.57 at Triple-A IowaWuertz could help out in middle relief. So far, so good. He has pitched three perfect innings in his first three big league appearances, notching four strikeouts.
I don't have a games total, but Vicente Rosario set the single-season steals record with 96 in 1996. He played at New York's George Washington High, the alma mater of Rod Carew and Manny Ramirez. Rosario signed with the Mets as a 1997 eighth-round pick, but got only five at-bats in their system before he was released in 2000.
Rosario was one of five Mets farmhands implicated in the sexual battery of a 17-year-old girl during extended spring training in 1998. Three players were convicted and received two-year prison terms, while Rosario was acquitted. He hooked up briefly with the Mariners after the Mets cut him loose, but his career ended in 2001 without him ever making it to full-season ball.
Eddie Martinez of Calvary Baptist High (LaVerne, Calif.) set the single-game mark with 11 in 1977. I can't find any record of him ever playing pro ball.
April 6, 2004
Though the Indians announced to the world that they were going to trade Milton Bradley, that didn't stop Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro from getting good prospect value for him. In a deal that made sense for both clubs, Bradley went to the Dodgers, who sorely need the offensive boost he can provide (not to mention more help beyond that).
Cleveland, which has a star center fielder of the future in the nearly-ready Grady Sizemore, got Franklin Gutierrez and a player to be named later. Gutierrez is one of the top outfield prospects in the minors, a prototype right fielder who's a year or two away from adding some serious juice to the Indians lineup. The player to be named later is reportedly a significant prospect, and my guess (it's just a guess) is that it's righthander Joel Hanrahan, a nice middle-of-the-rotation starter.
In the last Ask BA, I lamented that strikeouts and walks weren't readily available for hitters in spring-training stats after searching in vain for them. Thanks to Nils Samuels (Potsdam, N.Y.) for pointing out that they can be found on USA Today's website.
Twenty players were chosen in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December. Let's break down where they all wound up in chart form:
Of the 20, only six have rejoined their original clubs at this point. Eight of them are on big league rosters, where they'll have to stay all season in lieu of being placed on waivers and offered back to their former team for half the $50,000 draft price.
Righthanders D.J. Mattox (Reds) and Luis Urdaneta (Tigers) and lefty Lenny Dinardo (Red Sox) started the season on the disabled list. They have to spend 90 days on an active big league roster this year before the Rule 5 guidelines are met.
Three clubs held onto their Rule 5 picks but have been able to send them to the minors. Righthanders Talley Haines (Devil Rays to Blue Jays) and Jason Grilli (Marlins to White Sox) cleared waivers and weren't taken back by their former clubs. The Astros traded Jeriome Robertson to the Indians for the rights to outfielder Willy Taveras, as well as minor league outfielder Luke Scott.
For comparison's sake, 13 of the 28 major league Rule 5 picks made Opening Day rosters a year ago.
Very few players in the Rule 5 draft are going to blossom into future stars, like Santana is showing signs of doing. Almost anyone with that kind of potential will be protected on a 40-man roster. It's more useful for finding relief pitchers (like an Aquilino Lopez last year or Jason Szuminski this year) and reserves (Rich Thompson is a useful extra outfielder), because it does stunt the growth of starting pitchers and everyday players by forcing them into a year of relative inactivity in the majors.
"Long suffering"? I seem to remember the Indians winning six American League Central titles in seven years from 1995-2001, and playing in the 1995 and 1997 World Series.
Sizemore is the best center-field prospect in the game, and I'll be surprised if Coco Crisp and Alex Escobar can keep him in Triple-A Buffalo past the all-star break. As much as I like Sizemore, realize that he's only 21 and recognize that power is often the last tool to develop, I wouldn't go so far as to label him a 30-30 guy. I feel safe saying he'll be a 20-20 guy, and it's reasonable to see him as a 25-25 guy, but I'm not convinced he'll quite have 30-homer power.
Since the Diamondbacks made him a supplemental first-round pick in 1999, Daigle has gone 31-38, 4.51 in the minors. He hasn't missed bats, averaging 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings while opponents have hit .286 against him. His control hasn't been impressive either, as he has averaged 3.2 walks per nine innings. His main claim to fame was being the fiancé of photogenic Team USA softball star Jennie Finch.
But this spring, Daigle has looked like a totally different pitcher. His fastball has been quicker, reaching 95 mph more consistently. His slider has been sharper and his command and mound presence have been much improved. He posted a 3.74 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 22 Cactus League innings, grabbing the fourth spot in the Arizona rotation.
I'm still somewhat skeptical of Daigle because of his track record, but I'd rather see what he could do than trust in Reynolds. Skipping Triple-A isn't a huge jump, though it would have been safer to see how Daigle would have handled that level. I can't second-guess the decision, however, because he outpitched Gonzalez, Good and Patterson and appears to have turned a corner.
As for Villarreal, if Arizona manager Bob Brenly uses him for 86 appearances and 98 innings again this year, that question probably becomes moot. Villarreal has three effective pitches (sinker, slider, changeup), so there's no reason he couldn't make the transition back to starter, his role throughout his minor league career. But when a player has as much success as Villarreal did as a rookie last year, his team often doesn't think about changing his role, even if he might be more valuable and they have more of a need elsewhere.
April 4, 2004
After making my American League predictions in the last edition of Ask BA, it's time for my National League picks.
NL East: Phillies, Marlins, Braves, Mets, Expos.
NL Central: Astros, Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Reds.
NL West: Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Dodgers, Rockies.
World Series: Red Sox over Astros.
Weaver, the Long Beach State righthander, has started the year by going 8-0, 0.64 in his first eight starts, posting an 89-8 strikeout-walk ratio and a .118 opponent average in 57 innings. Along the way, he has become the consensus favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Padres in the draft. In the March 25 Ask BA, I broke down his stuff like this:
Weaver throws an 88-94 mph fastball with lots of life, but his low three-quarters arm slot has led to debate about how much of weapon his slider will be against big league lefthanders. Weaver's fastball would rate a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale, with his slider and changeup 50 pitches. His command is so good that his stuff plays better than its raw grades.
Looking at the Top 100 and comparing him to other righthanders, I could see putting Weaver as high as No. 38 (ahead of Pittsburgh's John Van Benschoten) and as low as No. 50 (in front of Houston's Taylor Buchholz). I'd tend to err on the side of conservatism, because while I think Weaver merits going No. 1, I think he's also a bit overrated in the minds of the general public. He's not the second coming of Mark Prior. I'd put Weaver at No. 46, sandwiching him between two other righties, Seattle's Clint Nageotte and Cincinnati's Ryan Wagner.
Castillo started the spring as the Pirates' hottest hitter in big league camp, though he has cooled off somewhat to .265-3-9 in 68 at-bats. Davis hasn't done a whole lot, hitting .231-1-8 in 52 at-bats. (Quick aside: Why aren't strikeouts and walks available for hitters in spring-training stats?) But Steven is correct when he says that it looks like both will open the season with Pittsburgh. Castillo and red-hot Bobby Hill will split time at second base, while Davis is out of options and likely will stick as a backup.
I'm lukewarm on both Castillo and Davis. Both have a chance to be big league regulars, but I don't see them as guys who are going to make a difference on a contender.
Castillo's bat has ridden a roller coaster since he hit full-season ball in 2000, as his yearly on-base plus slugging percentages have fluctuated from .826 to .647 to .823 to .729. The 23-year-old has some strong defensive tools and has played a lot of shortstop, though he has frustrating lapses in concentration. His offensive ceiling is somewhere along the lines of an Adam Kennedy or Orlando Hudson. But bear in mind that I'm talking ceiling, and I like Kennedy and Hudson more than Castillo.
Davis was struggling so much at the plate that he tried to persuade the Pirates to let him pitch in 2001, but they wouldn't go along with it. He had his two best years at the plate in 2002 and 2003, leading the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with a .554 slugging percentage last year. There's a lot of juice in his bat and his right-field arm, and he runs well, but there also are times where he looks more like an athlete than a baseball player.
Davis doesn't control the strike zone well, which leaves him vulnerable against pitchers with good command, and probably won't ever hit for a high average. He's also 25, so he's not going to get a whole lot better. I don't see a great major league comparison for him. The best I can come up with for his offensive ceiling is Juan Encarnacion with more power, or an in-his-prime Jeromy Burnitz with fewer walks.
Now that the 2004 Prospect Handbook is complete, we won't officially move Arias and Nelson from one list to another. But it is fun to speculate.
Arias ranked No. 4 on our Yankees Top 10 before he became the player to be named in the Alex Rodriguez trade. He's very toolsy, with admirable defensive skills and offensive potential, though he's still raw at the plate at age 19. He eventually could be Rodriguez' replacement in Texas. I'd put him eighth on our Rangers Top 10, between righthander Wes Littleton and second baseman Jason Bourgeois.
Long term, the 22-year-old Nelson could be the best player in the Chris Reitsma deal, which also included Jung Bong. Nelson ranked No. 3 on our Braves Top 10 and No. 75 on our overall Top 100 list. His two best pitches are a hard slider and a heavy 89-93 mph sinker. I'd put him in the second spot on our Reds Top 10, between righty Ryan Wagner and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion.