Panning For Middle-Rounds Gold
Ten years ago, Ben Zobrist took the New York-Penn League by storm. Managers raved about his all-around tool set and predicted he had the size, speed, defensive skills and hitting […]
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By Jim Callis
Nov. 24, 2004
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
All you had to do was ask. Below are select International League and Pacific Coast League leaders, both overall and for the 25-and-younger crowd. Not surprisingly, the latter group is comprised mostly of solid prospects.
Both Shull and Richardson returned to school for their senior seasons, so Arizona has lost the rights to them. The Diamondbacks still would like to sign Nicolas and Lawhorn, though there's no immediate timetable for getting either deal done.
Under scouting director Mike Rizzo, Arizona typically has spent its fifth-round picks on college seniors, who have less bargaining power and command smaller bonuses. The Diamondbacks went this route with catcher Brad Cresse ($60,000 bonus) in 2000 and outfielders Richie Barrett ($60,000) in 2001 and Jeff Cook ($50,000) in 2003. Nicolas also is a college senior, and Arizona offered him $60,000.
Nicolas, however, hasn't budged from his desire for mid-fifth-round slot money of $185,000. The Diamondbacks aren't about to meet that price, though they've left their offer on the table and would be happy to sign him in time for spring training. Undrafted as a junior in 2003, Nicolas won the Cape Cod League home run derby that summer. His best tool is his power, and he made some strides as a hitter this spring. His ceiling is a .275 hitter with 20 homers annually.
Money isn't the issue with Lawhorn. He hurt his foot in East Carolina's first NCAA regional playoff game and he's not ready to resume playing yet. Once he gets a clean bill of health, expect Lawhorn (who hasn't returned to school) to sign and move from right field to second base.
Isle of Palms, S.C.
To answer this question, I looked at the latest version of the Top 100 High School Prospects list we put out, which came in our Early Draft Preview issue. Because major league teams are reluctant to let top prep talent get away, I expected that the majority of the Top 100 would have turned pro.
I was wrong.
Just 44 players signed out of the draft. Half of that total came from the first 30 players on the Top 100, while only 22 of the bottom 70 players entered pro ball. Most of the players who didn't turn pro had strong college commitments and/or disappointing senior seasons, including the four players among the top 20 who didn't sign: outfielder Michael Taylor (No. 5, now at Stanford) and righthanders Andy Gale (No. 9, North Carolina), Kenn Kasparek (No. 13, Texas) and Erik Davis (No. 15, Angels). Taylor went undrafted.
Of the 56 players who opted against signing, 52 are attending four-year colleges. Three righthanders are at junior colleges and remain under control to the team who drafted them: Manatee (Fla.) CC's Brian Johnson (No. 39, drafted by the Brewers in the 30th round), JC of Southern Idaho's Troy Grundy (No. 59, Dodgers, 41st round) and Pensacola (Fla.) JC's Will Jostock (No. 62, Royals, 39th round).
The other unsigned player, outfielder Corey Brown, originally had a scholarship to play at Virginia. But the Cavaliers rescinded it after Brown pleaded guilty to felony battery in an incident in which he had sex with an underage girl. I can't find any record of where Brown ended up, and my guess is that he's at a junior college somewhere.
Nov. 17, 2004
Athletics outfield prospect Nick Swisher not only took a big step forward by hitting .269/.406/.537 with 29 homers, 92 RBIs and a minor league-best 103 walks at Triple-A Sacramento this year, he did so while playing with a fracture and a torn tendon in his left thumb all year. During spring training he re-aggravated the injury, which first occurred when he was at Ohio State, and played in pain all season long. He had surgery in late October and should be ready to go for 2005, when he'll be a top Rookie of the Year candidate.
Salt Lake City
Late first-rounders aren't cheap, that's for sure. The last 10 picks in the first round of the 2004 draft signed for an average bonus of $1,227,500. Teams do have finite budgets, and it's certainly easier and faster to find a productive big leaguer for that amount via the free-agent market than it is via the draft.
But looking at it from a different perspective, teams aren't going to sign many star-quality big leaguers as free agents for a contract in the very low seven figures. If they somehow do, they won't be able to control his major league rights for six years. The way to pull those feats off for that money is to take your chances in the draft.
The Giants haven't drafted well recently. Their most productive pick in the last five years has been 1999 supplemental first-rounder Jerome Williams. Previous to Williams they hadn't had much luck since taking Russ Ortiz (fourth round) and Joe Nathan (sixth) in 1995.
But San Francisco has excelled in turning its prospects, regardless of how well they would turn out, into proven major leaguers. That's a major reason the Giants have finished first or second in the National League West for eight years running. Several of the club's late first-round picks have proven very useful to that end.
Righthander Joe Fontenot (No. 16 overall, 1995) was the key player in the Robb Nen deal with the Marlins. Nate Bump (No. 25, 1999) also went to Florida, along with fellow righty Jason Grilli (No. 4 in 1997), for Livan Hernandez. Another righty, Kurt Ainsworth (No. 24, 1999), helped bring Sidney Ponson from the Orioles for the stretch drive in 2003. Righthander Boof Bonser (No. 21, 2000) was part of the A.J. Pierzynski deal with the Twins.
Righty Brad Hennessey (No. 21, 2001) and lefty Noah Lowry (No. 30, 2001) were part of San Francisco's rotation in September. Righty Matt Cain (No. 25, 2002) is clearly the Giants' top prospect and could help them as soon as next year. Righty David Aardsma (No. 22, 2003) made the Opening Day roster in 2004 and should provide bullpen help in 2005.
Though none of the traded first-rounders has accomplished much since leaving San Francisco, the Giants have gotten a lot of production out of them. By the end of 2006, their rotation could consist of Jason Schmidt and four late first-round or supplemental first-round choices. With that kind of track record, it makes no sense to just throw first-round picks away.
San Francisco signed Michael Tucker before the deadline to offer arbitration last yearif teams don't offer arbitration, they don't get compensationso the Royals would make that offer after the fact and spare the Giants of having to spend on a first-round pick in 2004. I haven't seen any definitive statements that they signed Vizquel early to accomplish the same purpose, though that may have been part of their intent. But there was enough competition for Vizquel's services that it's also possible that San Francisco moved quickly to avoid losing him to another club.
Because the Mets declined their option on Al Leiter, are they still eligible to receive two draft picks if he signs elsewhere? I remember reading that once a team declines an option on a player, they aren't eligible for free-agent compensation.
There's a misconception apparently circulating on message boards everywhere that declining an option is the equivalent of non-tendering a player, and that a team that does so forfeits its right to free-agent compensation. That's not the case. A player whose option is declined is in the same situation as one whose contract runs out. He's a free agent whose former club will receive compensation if he meets the Type A/B/C requirements, is offered arbitration and signs elsewhere.
Vizquel is a Type A free agent, so the Indians will get the Giants' first-round pick (No. 22 overall) and a supplemental first-round pick after they officially offer him arbitration, a no-brainer because there's no way now that he can accept. If San Francisco signs another Type A free agent with a higher rating than Vizquel, the Indians will have to settle for San Francisco's second-rounder.
Leiter is also a Type A free agent, and the Mets will get compensation for him as long as they offer him arbitration.
I hate to dim your optimism, but the Expos farm system doesn't have the talent to make the big league club a contender in the near future. It still ranks among the worst in the game, largely because of Minaya's trades in 2002, the first year of Major League Baseball's ownership. In that year alone, Minaya dealt Jason Bay, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and several other of Montreal's top prospects.
Minaya brought some talent in during 2004, actually getting something of value for Javier Vazquez (Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera) and adding prospects in astute deals involving Scott Stewart (outfielder Ryan Church, infielder Maicer Izturis) and free-agent-to-be Orlando Cabrera (righthander Francis Beltran, infielder Brendan Harris). But that was just a small step back toward respectability.
While scouting director Dana Brown and his skeleton staff have done a tremendous job keeping their side of the operation running despite limited money and manpower, the Expos simply haven't been able to commit the resources to scouting that other clubs do. They've drafted better than could have been expected, but the bottom line is that there's one true blue-chip prospect in the system: lefthander Mike Hinckley, a third-rounder from 2001. First baseman Larry Broadway, Church, injured righthander Clint Everts, Harris and lefty Bill Bray could become solid major league contributors, but they're not going to be cornerstones of a championship club.
Nov. 10, 2004
As much as the Cubs may want to get rid of Sammy Sosa, I don't see how they can do so without weakening their team. He's not going to approach 60 homers in a season again, and his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage each have declined for three straight seasons. Nevertheless, he still hit 35 homers in 126 games last year and is the most dangerous power threat on the roster.
As it is now, the Cubs owe Sosa $17.5 million in 2005, a $4.5 million buyout (or an $18 million option) in 2006 and a $3.5 termination fee at the end of his contract. That's $25.5 million for just one season, and Sosa certainly won't be worth that much. But if Chicago trades Sosa, his 2006 option automatically triggers and he gets either a $19 million option or $4.5 million buyout in 2007, plus the termination fee. So any trade would make Sosa a $43.5 million player for two years.
If the Cubs keep Sosa, they'll pay $25.5 million and get 30-40 homers from him. If they deal him, they likely will take on more money in bad contracts and in picking up part of Sosa's tab, and they likely won't get nearly as much production. Sosa has been and will be a distraction for the Cubs, but he never was Mr. Clubhouse Chemistry to begin with and they can live with him for another year.
Santa Ana, Calif.
Kent, I'm in total agreement with you on O'Malley. He has done more for the globalization of baseball than just about anyone, and don't forget his support of Olympic baseball. The early inroads the Dodgers made in nations all over the world has allowed them to dominate on the international market for years. They're still doing well on that front.
Guzman, who signed for a Dominican-record $2.25 million bonus in 2001, has begun to live up to that high price tag. He's the best prospect in the system and can make a case for being the top shortstop prospect in baseball, though he'll probably outgrow the position. One veteran scout I talked to this summer thinks Guzman is another Juan Gonzalez in the making.
Aybar, who held the Dominican record before Guzman with a $1.4 million bonus in 2000, has made steady progress the last two years and moved from third base to second base in 2004. He's not the future star that Guzman is, but Aybar should play in the majors. Figueroa, a Venezuelan who had an electrifying pro debut in 2002 after signing for $500,000, came down with shoulder tendinitis that fall and hasn't been the same pitcher since. He looks more like a reliever than a lefty ace at this point.
The Dodgers do have other quality foreign prospects in the system, such as slick-fielding shortstop Ching-Lung Hu, (Taiwan), live-armed righthanders Marcos Cavajal (Venezuela) and Julio Pimentel (Dominican), and offensive-minded infielder Tony Abreu (Dominican). Don't forget about outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (Venezuela), the key player Los Angeles sent to the Indians for Milton Bradley.
All three of those first-rounders are expected to begin 2005 at Beloit. I'll do better than a top five, instead presenting a prospect all-star team for the MWL. I didn't consider any college draft picks from 2004, figuring they either would be too advanced to be sent to low Class A or wouldn't stay very long if they were.
The Twins, who might have the best collection of minor league talent in the game, are going to be able to load Beloit with prospects. The deepest position in the MWL should be shortstop with Battle Creek's Reid Brignac (Devil Rays), Fort Wayne's Matt Bush (Padres), Wisconsin's Asdrubal Cabrera and Matt Tuiasosopo (Mariners), and Plouffe.
Quentin went 3-for-6 with a homer in three AFL games before straining his lower back. The injury isn't a long-term concern, but the Diamondbacks decided to play it safe with their top prospect and shut him down for the remainder of the fall season.
A 2003 first-round pick, Quentin missed his first pro summer while recovering from Tommy John surgery. In his pro debut, he reached Double-A while batting .332/.435/.549 with 21 homers, 89 RBIs and a minor league-record 43 hit-by-pitches in 125 games. It's a longshot, but Quentin could open next season as the Diamondbacks' right fielder depending on what moves they make in the offseason.
Nov. 4, 2004
The Red Sox have lost their first free agent of the season. Scouting director David Chadd, who worked under Dave Dombrowski with the Marlins, left Boston to work with Dombrowski in Detroit. Chadd will assume the same duties with the Tigers as former scouting director Greg Smith becomes a special-assignment scout.
What do scouts think of Koby Clemens as a prospect?
What's your report on Roger Clemens' son Koby and when is he draft-eligible?
East Brunswick, N.J.
The Houston Heat, winners of the Perfect Game/Baseball America World Wood Bat Fall Championship at Fort Myers, Fla., in late October, featured three sons of former Cy Young Award winners. Doug Drabek was an assistant coach on the team, which had his sons Justin (a senior at St. Pius X High in Houston) and Kyle (a junior at The Woodlands High) on the pitching staff. Roger Clemens was on hand to watch his son Koby (a senior at Memorial High in Houston) play third base.
Kyle Drabek is far and away the best prospect of the trio and projects as a likely first-round pick in 2006. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds he's built a lot like his father, and he already throws 91-92 mph with a hard slider. A righthander, he's also very athletiche's a wide receiver on The Woodlands football teamwhich helps him repeat his delivery and throw strikes.
Koby Clemens looks like more of a good college player at this point. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he's not nearly as big as his dad. His best tool is his power, and he shows decent agility and arm strength at third base. One college recruiter I asked about Clemens said he could play for a good Division I program but might not start as a freshman. He'll probably be a better pick in 2008 than he will when he comes out of high school in 2005.
Justin Drabek doesn't have his brother's size or fastball. A 5-foot-10, 160-pound righthander, he throws in the mid-80s. He also has a so-so breaking ball that has its moments.
The Tigers won't face any repercussions, subtle or otherwise, from the agents or the union. After they announced that they were pulling their offer to Verlander, the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft, they didn't circumvent his adviser, Mike Milchin of SFX. Verlander's family, led by his father Richard (a professional negotiator), reached out to the Tigers. A major league contract with a $3.12 million bonus and a $4.5 guaranteed million quickly ensued.
The strongest reaction came from other scouting directors. An unprecedented four first-rounders remain in negotiations in early November: Rice righthanders Philip Humber (No. 3, Mets) and Jeff Niemann (No. 4, Devil Rays), Long Beach State righty Jered Weaver (No. 12, Angels) and Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew (No. 15, Diamondbacks). And the scouting directors blame the agents. One who still hasn't signed his first-rounder said he wasn't surprised Verlander's family got a lucrative deal done so quickly with the Tigers once they got directly involved. That same director said he doubted the family had been informed of what Detroit had offered previously.
Huntington Beach, Calif.
Randy wins the prize for asking the first offseason question about free-agent compensation. Here's how it works:
The Elias Sports Bureau complies rankings of all major leaguers by position, based on their performance over the past two seasons. If teams offer arbitration to a free agent but lose him to another club, they'll receive compensation if he's classified as a Type A (top 30 percent at his position), Type B (31-50 percent) or Type C (51-60 percent) player.
For a Type A player, the compensation is the signing team's first-round pick plus a supplemental first-rounder. For a Type B, it's the signing team's first-round choice. For a Type C, it's a supplemental second-rounder. However, if the signing team picks in the upper half of the first round, that choice is protected and it loses its second-round selection instead. Also, Type C players who have been free agents in the past don't yield any compensation.
Anaheim wants to reallocate its resources by going with Dallas McPherson at third base over Glaus, then spending that money elsewhere. It could be risky to offer him arbitration (see the Braves and Greg Maddux in the 2002-03 offseason), and because he played in just 149 games in 2003-04, Glaus is only a Type C free agent. If I'm running the Angels, I wouldn't take that chance just to get a supplemental second-round pick.
Below is the complete list of Type A, B and C free agents. An asterisk indicates that the player hasn't formally become a free agent yet (usually because there's a option involved that hasn't been resolved).