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If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. Please include your full name and hometown if you'd like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column. Also, please understand that we can't respond to every question.

By Jim Callis

March 30, 2004

With Opening Day five days away, it's time for my season predictions. It's also time for Ask BA to return to its twice-a-week schedule, so I'll tease you with my American League picks today and make you wait until Friday for my National League thoughts.

AL East: Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, Devil Rays.
They don't have A-Rod, but the Red Sox have a better balanced and slightly deeper club than the Yankees.

AL Central: Twins, Royals, White Sox, Indians, Tigers.
The Twins' pitching situation might deter me more if the Royals didn't look even shakier.

AL West: Athletics, Angels, Mariners, Rangers.
The Angels spent a lot of money and will improve, but they also may be baseball's most overrated team.

    I'm all fired up for the season to start! In what order would you rank the following catchers on their power potential: Joe Mauer, Jeff Mathis, Quillermo Quiroz, Victor Martinez and Southern California's Jeff Clement?

    Joe Lederer
    Long Beach

If you asked five different scouts or analysts, you could get five different answers to this question. Let's start out with a quick statistical chart, with all figures from 2003. ISO is Isolated Power, which is simply slugging percentage minus batting average. Keep in mind, of course, that Clement did his damage with aluminum bats.

Catcher (Age)

Level

AB

2B

HR

SLG

ISO

Clement (19)NCAA208821.649.351
Martinez (24)AA/AAA/MLB445258.425.110
Mathis (20)Hi A/AA4733913.493.178
Mauer (20)Hi A/AA509305.434.096
Quiroz (21)AA3693120.518.236

I'd rank them in this order for power potential: Quiroz, Clement, Mathis, Martinez, Mauer. But let me qualify that by saying there's not a huge difference between these guys. I put Quiroz and Clement (the national high school career home run leader) on top because they have the edge in raw power. They're also not as well-rounded hitters as the other three, and they're more apt to focus on homers.

At the same time, it's hard to ignore how gifted Mathis, Martinez and Mauer are as all-around hitters. And—stop me if you've heard this one before—power is often the last tool to develop. Mathis has been very young for his leagues, yet he has 80 doubles in his two full seasons. Mauer's power (or lack thereof to this point) has come up in a few Ask BAs in the past, and my opinion hasn't changed. I still think he'll provide at least average home run pop once he gets established in the majors.

    I know you're more then interested in the Juan Cruz/Andy Pratt trade. What are your thoughts about it? In my opinion, I believe Richard Lewis is going to be the sleeper in the deal. He didn't have a great regular season, but his Arizona Fall League season was quite good. I really believe Lewis could be a Marcus Giles-type player with a little less pop and a better glove. So do you believe Cubs general manager Jim Hendry made at least a solid trade? Some people say the Cubs got taken, but I don't buy that.

    C.J. Keller
    Prattville, Ala.

As anyone who has read my columns or Ask BA knows, there are few bigger Cruz fans than me. I think the Cubs gave up on him too soon. He has been inconsistent as a big league starter, but he has pitched well out of the bullpen. Three spring-training starts is enough to decide he shouldn't be the temporary replacement for Mark Prior? Cruz still has the raw stuff to become a frontline starter. He just needs to show more confidence and command, and at 25 he still has time to do so.

I don't think Cubs manager Dusty Baker believed in Cruz, and that probably played into the decision. If I were in charge, I would have invested the money spent on Greg Maddux in some offense, a greater weakness on the club, and used Cruz as my fifth starter. Shawn "5.73 ERA" Estes got 28 starts last year, and I'd bank on Cruz being able to outperform Estes.

Pratt and Lewis are OK prospects, but I don't see them as having the chance to make anywhere near the difference that Cruz could. Pratt is a 24-year-old lefty with solid stuff and he led the Triple-A International League with 161 strikeouts in 156 innings last year. But he also topped the IL with 77 walks, and his stuff and consistency fluctuate enough that I see him as more of a middle reliever.

I don't see Lewis as Giles lite. He's a career .255 hitter with 12 homers in 2½ pro seasons. At the same stage of his career, Giles had batted .331 with 58 homers and two league MVP awards—and he was two years younger. Lewis has decent all-around tools and looks like a utilityman to me.

    Did the Yankees give up a better prospect to get Mike Lamb then they received a month later when they traded Lamb? Also, I noticed that they waived Erick Almonte even though a few other teams were rumored to have interest in him. Why didn't New York GM Brian Cashman get something back even if it was a marginal prospect? Almonte does have some ability.

    Mitchell Cohen
    East Brunswick, N.J.

On Feb. 4, the Yankees acquired Lamb from the Rangers for minor league righthander Rey Garcia. Fifty days later, they sent Lamb to the Astros for minor league righty Juan DeLeon.

Garcia is a better prospect because he has the chance to be a starter, while DeLeon is a future setup man, but there's not a huge difference. Both are 22 and spent most of 2003 in low Class A. Garcia has command of four pitches, three of which (fastball, changeup, slider) project to be average or better. DeLeon has a 92-95 mph fastball and a plus changeup. I wouldn't fault the Yankees for giving up Garcia for a guy who could have started for them, then spinning him into a live arm once they acquired Alex Rodriguez.

As for Almonte, he's a fringe prospect at best right now, more 4-A insurance than a potential starter. There was some mild interest in Almonte from other clubs and the Yankees did explore trades, but they couldn't make something happen. Almonte already had been designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man roster this winter, and no team jumped to claim him off waivers then. And he has yet to be picked up since being released six days ago.

March 25, 2004

Not only is Opening Day approaching, but the draft is little more than two months away. We've already begun leading up to our annual Draft Preview extravaganza by updating our rankings on the college crop. Yesterday, we posted an overview of the college scene as well as a Top 50 College Prospects list.

The hot name is Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver, and we'll get to some questions about him in a second. Weaver was at it again last night, tying a 49ers record with 16 strikeouts—in just six innings against Wichita State. For the season, he's now 8-0, 0.64 in eight starts, with 22 hits, eight walks and 89 strikeouts in 56 innings.

    How good a major leaguer is Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver likely to be? I realize that Rice righthander Jeff Niemann entered the season as the most likely No. 1 pick, but has Weaver caught him? How high will Weaver probably go?

    Joe Deacon
    Bloomington, Ill.

The Padres, who pick No. 1 overall, already are zeroing in on Weaver. Petco Park, the Padres' new home, was christened with a college tournament, and San Diego GM Kevin Towers was on hand to watch Weaver fan 15 while one-hitting UCLA for eight innings. In the story I linked above, Towers couldn't contain his enthusiasm about Weaver.

Towers said that barring injury, it will hard for anyone to move past Weaver on the Padres' draft board. He also said that only Mark Prior has dominated college hitters as much as Weaver in recent memory, and that Weaver could go straight from Long Beach State to the majors.

Teams never talk about prospective draftees in this manner, at least not on the record, because they fear their comments will come back to haunt them in negotiations. I'm sure Towers believes what he said, because I can't figure out any ulterior motive he'd have for driving Weaver's price up for some other club. But I also can't discern why he'd want to give Weaver's adviser any extra ammunition, especially when that adviser is Scott Boras. San Diego can start drafting a big league contract right now.

Weaver is very good, but his numbers are so unfathomable that I think he's getting overrated by the general public. I'd project him as more of a No. 2 starter than as a classic No. 1, and he's not the next Mark Prior. Both his fastball and breaking ball are a half-grade or full grade behind where Prior's were when he came out of Southern California. 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.

    Do you think the Padres, No. 25 in BA's organization rankings, will be rated higher next year? They have the No. 1 draft pick (Jered Weaver). They should still have second baseman Josh Barfield. What if second baseman Jake Gautreau has a good season and center fielder Freddy Guzman comes back from his elbow injury? Maybe some of their younger pitchers step up, such as Justin Germano, Tim Stauffer, David Pauley and Jared Wells. Their catching could be a strength with Nick Trzesniak, Humberto Quintero, Greg Sain and Colt Morton. Mix in outfielder Jon Knott, first baseman Tagg Bozied and outfielder Kennard Jones from BA's Padres Top 10 Prospects list, and I see positives.

    Bruce Norlander
    Minneapolis

Hey, with the way Kevin Towers is talking, Weaver might exhaust his rookie eligibility this summer and not even qualify as a prospect by this time next year. But seriously, folks . . .

We had several questions in last month's Ask BAs dealing with how we rate organizations. Personally, I focus on quality (players who can star in the major leagues) more than quantity. Weaver would help the Padres, but he's just one player. They had two Top 100 Prospects this year, and while Barfield almost certainly will make the list again next year, it's nearly as certain that shortstop Khalil Greene won't count as a rookie or prospect again. Having righthander Tim Stauffer, the No. 4 overall pick last June, make a full recovery from shoulder woes would be a major boost.

But while I see some depth, I don't see a lot of difference makers, players who one day will lead a big league club to the playoffs. I like a lot of the guys that Bruce mentioned, but very few of them are blue-chip prospects. The Padres are going to try to contend this year, so if they go the trade route they'll likely part with minor league talent rather than acquire it. They'll probably rise up our organization rankings next year, because it's a natural tendency of teams to move toward the middle, but I'd be surprised if they shot dramatically up the charts.

    With Ryan Sweeney's impressive performance during spring training this year, it seems the White Sox are loaded with outfield prospects. How would you rank the current group of Sweeney, Joe Borchard, Jeremy Reed and Brian Anderson? Who has the brightest future in the major leagues?

    Dewayne Hankins
    Aventura, Fla.

Outfielders are the strength of the White Sox system. Five of them made our White Sox Top 10 Prospects list, with Chris Young joining the four whom Dewayne mentioned.

Reed, No. 25 on our Top 100 Prospects list, is the best. I've engaged in some chat and e-mail debate with readers, explaining why No. 25 is not too low for a guy who led the minors with a .373 batting average and .453 on-base percentage last year. It's possible that Reed will be a left fielder and not a center fielder, and he won't be a big-time power or stolen-base threat, but there's no question he can hit and get on base.

Sweeney is their next-best outfielder. He should have been a first-round pick last June, but a lackluster performance in a predraft showcase allowed the White Sox to snag him in the second round. Also a worthwhile prospect as a lefthanded pitcher, Sweeney is another pure hitter, as evidenced by his ability to come straight to big league camp and hold his own as a 19-year-old. He should develop some power as well.

Anderson, Chicago's first-round pick last year, needed wrist surgery just 13 games into his pro debut. He has better all-around tools than Reed and Sweeney and is a true center fielder, though he probably won't hit as much. Depending on what the White Sox do with Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez, their outfield of the future could be Reed in left, Anderson in center and Sweeney in right.

Borchard has regressed in Triple-A and his grasp of the strike zone keeps getting worse. He's going to have to make much more consistent contact to tap into his considerable power. Young has blazing speed but still hasn't proved that he can hit. Other White Sox outfielders to watch include Ricardo Nanita and Clint King. Like Sweeney and Anderson, Nanita (14th round) and King (third) were products of the 2003 draft.

March 17, 2004

Random Fact That I Stumbled Upon By Accident: The Devil Rays will pick fourth overall in the 2004 draft—their second-lowest pick since they entered the regular draft rotation in 1999. They've picked first (Josh Hamilton), sixth (Rocco Baldelli), third (Dewon Brazelton), second (B.J. Upton) and first (Delmon Young).

    At this point, it looks like the Mariners' Triple-A Tacoma rotation may feature Clint Nageotte, Travis Blackley, Rett Johnson, Cha Baek and Bobby Madritsch, with Matt Thornton somewhere in the mix. How does that group stack up with the other top rotations throughout the minors? What other organizations have comparable or superior pitching depth that's close to major league ready?

    Chris Park
    Cambridge, Mass.

Chris, I believe you've identified the best Opening Day rotation in the upper minors. It's quite possible that once they get settled in Seattle, Nageotte will be a closer and Johnson and Madritsch will be late-inning setup men, but for now the Mariners will continue to use all of them as starters.

After scanning our prospect lists, I came up with five other formidable potential rotations we could see in Double-A or Triple-A at the beginning of the season. I'll list them in alphabetical order by club:

Team (Class)

Org

Top Pitching Prospects

Bowie (AA)

Bal

John Maine, Erik Bedard, Rommie Lewis, Dave Crouthers, Ryan Hannaman

Indianapolis (AAA)

Mil

Mike Jones, Ben Hendrickson, Jorge de la Rosa, Chris Capuano

Nashville (AAA)

Pit

John VanBenschoten, Sean Burnett, Cory Stewart

Syracuse (AAA)

Bal

Dustin McGowan, David Bush, Jason Arnold, Vinny Chulk, Cam Reimers

West Tenn (AA)

ChC

Bobby Brownlie, Chadd Blasko, Jae-Kuk Ryu, Ricky Nolasco, Renyel Pinto, Carmen Pignatiello

I'd put the West Tenn rotation right behind Tacoma's, and it will get even stronger with the addition of Angel Guzman. The Cubs' top prospect, Guzman will miss the start of the season as he recovers from minor shoulder surgery last summer.

A sleeper rotation to watch is Toronto's Double-A New Hampshire group. Francisco Rosario has almost completed his comeback from Tommy John surgery and should go there after a possible tuneup in high Class A. Vince Perkins, D.J. Hanson and Jesse Harper should be with the Ravens to start the season.

    In 2003, the Yankees drafted three talented pitchers in later rounds because of signability issues: Steven White (fourth), David Purcey (17th) and Daniel Bard (20th). But they haven't signed any of them. The Yankees aren't poor and they need young pitching. Why wouldn't they sign all three of these guys? How good are they?

    Alexander Ramos
    Yonkers, N.Y.

I can give you cause for a little optimism by telling you that the Yankees signed White, a Baylor senior righthander, for $250,000 on Friday. A fourth-round pick last June, he's something of an enigma to scouts. White looked better as a sophomore and in the Cape Cod League than he did in his last two years with the Bears. He has a good body (6-foot-5 and 205 pounds) and a low-90s fastball with some life to it, but his breaking ball, control and command are inconsistent.

Both Purcey and Bard were borderline first-round talents but went much later in the 2003 draft. Purcey dropped to the 17th round because he was relegated to the bullpen as a University of Oklahoma sophomore because he couldn't throw strikes. Scouts love his package, which includes a 91-95 mph fastball, 80-83 mph slider and a strong 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame. Bard fell to the 20th round because he wanted as much as $2 million to pass up attending the University of North Carolina. He already throws 90-96 mph and still has room for plenty of projection at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds.

As much as the Yankees spend on the other phases of their operation, they've been curiously cheap and passive in the amateur draft. In the 2004 Prospect Handbook, I graded their 1999-2002 drafts, in order, as a F, D, C and F. Purcey pitched very well in the Cape Cod League last summer, and I was surprised they didn't sign him before he rejoined the Sooners. The last time the Yankees didn't lock up a high school pitcher as talented as Bard was in 1998, when they let supplemental first-rounder Mark Prior escape to Vanderbilt.

In no way am I saying that Bard will become Prior, because Prior is a once-in-a-generation talent. But at this point Bard looks like a first-rounder in 2006. Purcey, who is showing better control than ever this spring, could achieve that status this June if he keeps it up. Both have sub-1.00 ERAs thus far this season.

    Justin Maxwell, the University of Maryland's outstanding center fielder, hasn't played yet this year. Why not, and when is he expected back?

    Scott Sanders
    Baltimore

In early February, just before Maryland started its season, Maxwell was hit on the right forearm during live batting practice. He fractured his ulna, which is why he hasn't taken the field. The Terrapins expect him to begin rehab work soon, with the hope he can return by early April.

After his coming-out party in the Cape Cod League last summer, Maxwell has a chance to go in the late or supplemental first round in the June draft. Maxwell didn't have a Cape offer for 2003, but he made the Bourne Braves out of a tryout camp and finished seventh in the batting race at .307-2-17.

We ranked Maxwell at No. 13 on our Cape Top 30 Prospects list last summer. He was the best athlete in the league, and at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds drew some physical comparisons to Dave Winfield. A center fielder, he has solid or better tools across the board. He also has outstanding makeup, as he's a top student (he turned down the chance to attend Harvard) and won the Cape's 10th player award. His biggest need, other than getting healthy, is to add strength and learn to pull more pitches in order to tap into his power potential.

March 10, 2004

We posted our second annual "31st Team" yesterday. We got a few Ask BA questions about last year's edition, so I'll cut them off at the pass. The players listed aren't the best ones not to make the 2004 Prospect Handbook. Rather, they're prospects on whom we compiled scouting reports that we didn't use. In most cases, they were knocked off a Top 30 by being traded to an organization with a better farm system, or by losing out when their club acquired prospects during the offseason.

This year's 31st Team doesn't appear to be as strong as the first crop. Jody Gerut became the best rookie hitter in the American League last year, while Indians righthander Jake Dittler, Cubs outfielder/first baseman Jason Dubois and Royals second baseman Don Murphy went on to establish themselves as solid prospects. The two guys who intrigue me the most on the current 31st Team are righties Eddie Bonine (Padres) and Todd Deininger (White Sox). It will be interesting to see who emerges from this squad.

    James Loney has been lights-out for the Dodgers early in spring training, going 7-for-10 with six RBIs and playing some great defense at first base. I'm not foolish enough to believe that he'll keep it up all spring, but what are the chances of Loney making the Dodgers? How often do 19- or 20-year-olds make big league rosters? Do you see any doing so this season?

    Dave Rainer
    Huntington Beach, Calif.

Loney has been on the fast track ever since the Dodgers drafted him 19th overall in 2002. More teams preferred him as a lefthanded pitcher, but Los Angeles made him a full-time first baseman and sent him to high Class A by the end of his first pro summer. He returned there in 2003 at age 19, where he held his own but wasn't at full strength because he was recovering from a broken left wrist that had ended his pro debut. As good as he has looked in the Grapefruit League and as much as the Dodgers need offense, Loney probably requires at least another full year in the minors. A reasonable ETA for him becoming a big league starter would be mid-2005.

I asked STATS, Inc. programming whiz Jim Henzler if he could come up with a list of all players who have made their major league debut at seasonal age 20 (as of June 30) since 1990. He found 66 youngsters achieved that feat. Many of them have gone on to become standouts. Here's an all-star team I put together:

Pos

Player, Year (Age)

C

Ivan Rodriguez, 1991 (19)

1B

Jim Thome, 1991 (20)

2B

Luis Castillo, 1996 (20)

3B

Eric Chavez, 1998 (20)

SS

Alex Rodriguez, 1994 (18)

OF

Vladimir Guerrero, 1996 (20)

OF

Andruw Jones, 1996 (19)

OF

Vernon Wells, 1999 (20)

SP

Pedro Martinez, 1992 (20)

SP

C.C. Sabathia, 2001 (20)

SP

Carlos Zambrano, 2001 (20)

RP

Francisco Rodriguez, 2002 (20)

There were plenty of other candidates, too, including Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green, Byung-Hyun Kim, Corey Patterson, Oliver Perez and Edgar Renteria. Last year's crop looks outstanding with 19-year-old Edwin Jackson and 20-year-olds Jeremy Bonderman, Miguel Cabrera, Chad Gaudin, Edgar Gonzalez, Jose Reyes, Ryan Wagner and Rickie Weeks.

I see five players who have a fair chance of becoming big league regulars this year at seasonal age 20 or younger: Jackson to open the season, plus (in order of when they'll arrive) Royals righty Zack Greinke (20), Devil Rays shortstop B.J. Upton (19), Braves third baseman Andy Marte (20) and Dodgers lefty Greg Miller (19). Rays outfielder Delmon Young (18), the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, signed a big league contract and probably will get a September callup.

    I really enjoy all of your content, especially the annual Top 100 Prospects list. I appreciate the difficulty involved in drawing distinctions among the best of the best, but what was the reason for leaving Joel Zumaya off the list? Does a pitcher's fragile nature/injury risk factor into the equation? Or in the case of Zumaya, does the uncertainty about his future role (starter vs. reliever) matter? I know Felix Hernandez put up some exciting numbers at age 17 and has great stuff, but I believe Zumaya excelled to an even greater extent over a more meaningful number of batters faced at a higher level—at age 18.

    David J. Charles
    McLean, Va.

We do recognize that the attrition rate with pitchers is higher than with hitters, and we take that into consideration when we're weighing the merits of one versus the other. All told, the Top 100 list was split right down the middle with 50 pitchers and 50 hitters.

Zumaya was a tough call. Of the five people who hashed out the list, one of us put him on their personal Top 100, while two others had him in the 101-110 range. There are a lot of positives about him, but also some negatives that ultimately kept him off the consensus Top 100.

Zumaya has a consistent mid-90s fastball and a hard curveball. Though he was 18 and pitching against more experienced hitters in the low Class A Midwest League last year, he averaged 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which would have led the minors had he pitched enough to qualify. On the other hand, he has a maximum-effort delivery that led to back problems and six weeks on the sidelines last year. His command and his curveball are inconsistent, and he needs to improve his changeup and throw it more often.

Add all that up, and it's possible that he could be a reliever with one truly reliable pitch rather than a starter. Yes, that might be nitpicking. But when we're putting together our list, it's things like that which we use to separate players. Hernandez, for instance, has a more consistent breaking ball, better command and a sounder delivery, so it's easier to project him becoming a frontline starter. If Zumaya makes some strides and has another big year in 2004, he'll be a shoo-in for the Top 100 next spring.

    How close was Rene Reyes to the Top 100? He seems to be a top prospect with a chance to make the Rockies this year. Playing in Coors Field can't hurt his value.

    John Wilder
    Burlington, Ky.

Reyes wasn't very close to making the Top 100 list. He has proven he can hit for average with a career .329 mark in the minors, but he's 26 now and never has shown much pop. He looks likes a corner outfielder with no more than gap power, and his work ethic has been intermittent. Reyes has the chance at a big league career and to be a regular, but I don't see the star ceiling I'd associate with a typical Top 100 Prospect.

Coors Field doesn't factor into our rankings. While the park will boost Reyes' numbers, we don't give him credit for that because he has nothing to do with it. Similarly, we don't penalize righty Chin-Hui Tsao (No. 24 on the Top 100) because he'll have to pitch there. Coors will kill his numbers, but in a neutral park he'd be pretty good.

March 3, 2004

I've been espousing the quality vs. quantity argument when it comes to rating the strength of farm systems in the last three Ask BAs (click here to see those discussions in the Ask BA archives). Along those lines, Joe Karbowski of Traverse City, Mich., assigned each player on our Top 100 Prospects list a value inverse to their ranking. No. 1 Joe Mauer received 100 points, while No. 100 Jason Lane received one point. Joe then compiled the totals by team to check the "quality" in each system. Here are his results:

 1. Angels      374    11. Mariners      196    21. Royals     120
 2. Brewers     371    12. Indians       189    22. Cardinals  106
 3. Dodgers     319    13. Orioles       188    23. Red Sox     85
 4. Blue Jays   292    14. Phillies      162    24. Expos       84
 5. Mets        291    15. Diamondbacks  149    25. Giants      71
 6. Twins       252    16. Rockies       136    26. Rangers     70
 7. Braves      237    17. Pirates       131    27. Tigers      68
 8. Marlins     214    18. Athletics     127    28. Yankees     60
 9. Cubs        205    19. White Sox     122    29. Reds        55
10. Devil Rays  203    20. Padres        121    30. Astros      52

Joe acknowledges that his method is simplistic but also notes that it correlates fairly well with the various rankings we've discussed in the recent Ask BAs. Three things jumped out at him:

1. The clustering of teams. The Angels and Brewers ranked well ahead of the pack, and behind them were clear tiers of ranking.

2. How high the Mets ranked by this measure. The Mets never came up in an Ask BA question, but I ranked them 13th overall. Their impact talent is very impressive with Kazuo Matsui, Scott Kazmir and David Wright, and Matt Peterson and Lastings Milledge could soar up the Top 100 for next year. Beyond that group, they don't have much depth. They're very top-heavy.

3. The Cubs and Devil Rays were lower than expected, considering the buzz surrounding their prospects. I discussed the Devil Rays in a recent Ask BA.. B.J. Upton and Delmon Young generate 197 of Tampa Bay's 203 Top 100 points, reinforcing my point that the system isn't as stellar beyond its two überprospects. I had the Cubs sixth on my list, but most of their best prospects haven't done much beyond Class A, so they ranked beyond some more proven players on the Top 100.

    The more I read your pitching talent evaluations, the more confused I get by your method of rating a guy's ceiling by his projected spot in a big league rotation. What does it take to be considered a possible future ace? A certain amount of velocity? A second or third plus pitch? Is it related to the 20-80 scouting scale? When you say a guy projects as a No. 3, do you mean a No. 3 on a playoff-caliber staff like the Cubs, Astros, Yankees or Red Sox, or do you mean the major league mean No. 3? Perhaps a more interesting way of approaching my question would be to estimate how many potential No. 1s there are in the upper tiers of the minors. How many established No. 1s are there presently in the majors? Maybe there really are 30, but a few teams took more than their fair share? As a Cubs fan, I'm wondering whom among our prized stable really rates out as a potential ace. Not who's most likely to arrive in the majors, but rather who's most likey to dominate there. For comparison's sake, how would you rate the five already in Chicago's big league rotation?

    Ryan H. Becker
    Seattle

I assume Ryan is referring to the Top 100 Prospects chats I did Friday at ESPN.com and at baseballamerica.com, in which I used the phrase "No. 3 starter" six times. In the 2004 Prospect Handbook, we break down the stuff attributed to the different slots in a rotation:

No. 1: two plus pitches, one average pitch, plus-plus command
No. 2: two plus pitches, one average pitch, average command
No. 3: one plus pitch, two average pitches, average command 
Nos. 4-5: average velocity, consistent breaking ball, 
          decent changeup, command of two pitches

I'd leave a little wiggle room with those classifications, and there's some gut feel involved, but they're pretty good guidelines and they're defined in terms of a contender. What role could a pitcher play on a championship-caliber team?

Looking through the major leagues, I came up with 15 pitchers who have established themselves as No. 1 starters (assuming they're healthy). I'll list them alphabetically: Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens (his stuff is still that good), Bartolo Colon, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Matt Morris, Mark Mulder, Mike Mussina, Roy Oswalt, Mark Prior, Curt Schilling, Jason Schmidt and Javier Vazquez. Josh Beckett and Johan Santana definitely have the stuff but haven't established the portfolio yet.

I don't include Kerry Wood because his command is just average, or Barry Zito because neither his second pitch nor his command measure up. That doesn't mean they're not stars. They just don't fit the classic definition of a No. 1.

The top half of our Top 100 Prospects list is peppered with pitchers who have ceilings as No. 1 starters. The first 13 pitchers we mention have that potential: in order, Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, Scott Kazmir, Adam Loewen, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Dustin McGowan, Gavin Floyd, Chin-Hui Tsao, Angel Guzman, Ervin Santana, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Sleeth. All of these guys have the pure stuff, but most need more consistency and better command. If they don't develop it, they're not going to be more than No. 2s. Of course, they'll require continued good health as well. And realistically, if four of them become No. 1 starters, that will be a lot.

If a guy doesn't have a dominant pitch, I have a hard time seeing him as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. The next pitcher on the Top 100, John VanBenschoten, falls into that category for me. Behind him, Merkin Valdez, Joe Blanton and Jeff Allison have No. 1 starter potential; Clint Nageotte would if he projected to have better than average command; and Blake Hawksworth can be a No. 1. Again, I'm talking about potential rather than certainty.

As for the Cubs, I'll look at the pitchers who made our organization Top 10 Prospects list. Guzman and Justin Jones have ceilings as No. 1s, and I'd put a healthy Bobby Brownlie in that category as well. Andy Sisco is a No. 2 for me, with Chadd Blasko and Jae-Kuk Ryu as No. 3s in my book. In Chicago's major league rotation, I'd grade Prior as a No. 1, Wood and Carlos Zambrano as No. 2s and Greg Maddux (the current edition, not the vintage Maddux) and Matt Clement as No. 3s.

    You mentioned a lot of pretty good lefthanders in your last Ask BA. However, I'm wondering what happened to Macay McBride. His numbers were down a little in 2003, but he still had a solid year. Numberswise, Top 100 Prospects Mike Hinckley, Scott Olsen, Manny Parra, Dan Meyer and Jeff Francis didn't do that much better than McBride. Why was McBride left off the Top 100 and what do you think of him?

    James Qu
    Decatur, Ga.

McBride came up in our internal Top 100 discussion. I've always liked McBride, though I'll confess that I didn't put him on my personal Top 100 this year and his staunchest supporter was John Manuel. His fastball dipped into the high 80s a little too much for my taste in 2003, and he was much more hittable than he had been in the past. If McBride can consistently work in the low 90s in 2004, I suspect you'll see him miss more bats and work his way onto our next Top 100. I project him as a No. 3 starter in the majors.

    With lefthanded pitching prospects always prized, why did Baltimore choose to make Nick Markakis an outfielder? Can you shed some light on Baltimore's reasons for the switch, and whether you agree with it?

    Mike Marinaro
    Tampa

Most teams viewed Markakis, who won back-to-back BA Junior College Player of the Year awards at Young Harris (Ga.), as a pitcher. Here's the scouting report on him that I wrote in our Draft Preview:

He pitched at 92-94 mph for most of the season, though he sat at 88-90 in May. His slurvy breaking ball is a plus pitch and he has improved his changeup. There's some effort to his delivery, but he has a quick arm and few lefties can match his stuff. He's the second-best draft-and-follow on the market, trailing only Chipola (Fla.) JC's Adam Loewen, and like Loewen he could be an early pick if he were just a power-hitting right fielder.

Markakis hit .455-17-74 as a freshman and .439-21-92 as a sophomore, leading national juco hitters in RBIs in 2003. Interestingly, the Orioles scout who first mentioned the possibility that the club might want to look at Markakis as a right fielder was Mickey White, who was the Pirates scouting director who took NCAA home run champ John VanBenschoten eighth overall in 2001 and made him a full-time pitcher. That decision has worked out very well thus far for Pittsburgh.

What cinched the decision for the Orioles was an impressive workout Markakis had as a hitter the day before they took him seventh overall. We rated him the No. 1 prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League after he hit .283/.372/.395 with one homer and 28 RBIs in his 59-game pro debut. If he develops as Baltimore expects him to, Markakis will become a prototypical right fielder with plus power. I'll give the Orioles the benefit of the doubt that they know what they're doing here, especially given White's previous example of defying the conventional wisdom.

    If lefty Luis Martinez was the No. 13-ranked prospect for the Brewers (rated No. 1 among organizations), where would BA have listed him with the Cardinals (rated No. 28)?

    Rick Mostak
    Lowell, Ind.

I'm always a sucker for the what-if ranking questions. I'm still not convinced that Martinez didn't just have a career year in the minors last year, and his legal troubles in the Dominican Republic didn't help his cause. I'm not a huge fan of Martinez, and I'd put him 12th on the St. Louis list, between lefty Tyler Johnson and outfielder/second baseman Shaun Boyd.

To look at it from another perspective that also shows the relative strength of the two organizations, just two members of the Cardinals Top 10 (righthanders Blake Hawksworth and Adam Wainwright) could crack the Brewers Top 10, and they'd be in the middle of the Milwaukee list.

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