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By Jim Callis

April 27, 2005

Brent Clevlen cracked our 2004 Top 100 Prospects list at No. 98, and I thought he was poised for a breakout season in 2004. But like most Tigers prospects last year, he took a severe downturn. He hit just .223/.300/.349 with six homers and 50 RBIs in 117 games at high Class A Lakeland.

Clevlen has returned to the Florida State League this year, and he's getting back on track. He's off to a .389/.421/.694 start with six homers (matching last year's total) and 22 RBIs in 18 contests. Clevlen got off to a solid start in 2004 before hitting .187 after May, as pitchers repeatedly worked him on the outer half of the plate. He's made the adjustment and has the tools to be as good as any position player in Detroit's system. Recapturing the plate discipline he showed when he drew 72 walks in 2003 would help. He has just two walks so far this year.

If Ask BA isn't enough to sate your prospect appetite today, I'll be taking more questions in a chat at ESPN.com at 3 p.m. Eastern this afternoon.

They have proven less in the majors than the other two brother acts, but I'd go with the Uptons. B.J. might not be able to stay at shortstop for the Devil Rays, but he still has the hitting ability, power, speed and arm strength to be a superstar. And he's still only 20. Comparing him to the older brothers, who have a longer track record in the majors, Upton has a better chance to be great than Corey Patterson, who's held back by his lack of plate discipline, or J.D. Drew, who's still dogged by questions about his consistency, desire and durability.

As for the younger brothers, I'd take Justin Upton among that group. Like B.J., scouts aren't sold that Justin will play shortstop in the majors, but he's the leading candidate to go No. 1 in the 2005 draft. One scouting director said that if the team that takes Justin puts him in center field immediately, he could make a Ken Griffey Jr.-like ascent. Stephen Drew, who still has yet to sign with the Diamondbacks after they made him a first-round pick last June, was the best position prospect in the 2004 draft but his makeup worries scouts even more than J.D.'s. Patterson is off to a hot start in low Class A, batting .431 with 10 steals in 15 games, but he's doesn't have the star potential of the other players mentioned. His ceiling is more as a solid regular.

My top five brother duos, in terms of potential are:

1. B.J. (Devil Rays SS) and Justin (high school SS) Upton
2. Dmitri (Tigers 1B) and Delmon (Devil Rays OF) Young
3. J.D. (Dodgers OF) and Stephen (unsigned SS) Drew
4. Adam (Braves 1B) and Andy (Dodgers 3B) LaRoche
5. Corey (Cubs OF) and Eric (Cubs 2B) Patterson

Also keep an eye on the Reeds, Jeremy (Mariners OF) and Mark (Cubs C), and the Aybars, Erick (Angels SS) and Willy (Dodgers 3B).

    I went to see the Wilmington Blue Rocks two weekends ago and watched righthander Anibal Sanchez strike out 14 men in six innings, giving up just one hit. He looked absolutely overpowering. Is he projected as a top-of-the-rotation starter? What's his ETA in Boston?

    Jim Parks
    Newark, Del.

Sanchez has been spectacular since making his U.S. debut last year. He spent the first two years of his career in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League, then missed all of 2003 after having surgery to transpose a nerve in his elbow. He came back in 2004 to lead the short-season New York-Penn League in ERA (1.77) and strikeouts (101 in 76 innings) while ranking as the circuit's top pitching prospect. He hasn't missed a beat despite jumping two levels to high Class A this year, going 1-1, 3.86 with a 28-1 strikeout-walk ratio in 14 innings. Sanchez has limited hitters to a .204 average with one homer.

Sanchez' velocity has surged along with his prospect status. He pitched in the high 80s in Venezuela, but his fastball jumped to the mid-90s last year. He also has good life on his heater and can throw it for strikes to both sides of the plate. His curveball and changeup have their moments, though like most young pitchers he still needs to gain more consistency with his secondary pitches. If he does that, he definitely could pitch at the front of a rotation.

Sanchez is on the fast track, as evidenced by skipping a level this year. He's still just 21, so realistically he's at least two years from the majors.

    Can you give me a breakdown on Mets righthander Brian Bannister's stuff? I see he's off to a terrific start for Double-A Binghamton and wanted your thoughts as to why he seems to be throwing a lot better as he climbs the latter against tougher hitters?

    David Acevedo Jr.
    Brooklyn

Bannister, 24, doesn't have the draft pedigree of his father Floyd, who went No. 1 overall to the Astros in June 1976 and won 134 games in the majors, but he has progressed rapidly since the Mets took him in the seventh round out of Southern California in 2003. He held his own after reaching Double-A last August and has excelled there in four starts this year, going 4-0, 0.42 with 26 strikeouts and five walks in 21 innings. Opponents are hitting just .156 with one homer against him. He's tied for the minor league lead in victories and opponent average.

Bannister's stuff isn't as dominant as those numbers, but he has a solid mix of average pitches and knows how to mix them up and throw them for strikes. He has a 90-92 mph fastball, a cutter, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. He projects to fit more into the back of a rotation or middle relief rather than becoming a frontline starter, but he has the repertoire and savvy to help the Mets in the near future, perhaps later this year.

April 20, 2005

For my column in the next issue of Baseball America, I checked on which teams fared the best and worst in the 2000-03 drafts, based on the grades I gave in the 2005 Prospect Handbook. I used the four grades for each club to come up with a draft grade-point average. Space wouldn't allow me to run each team's GPA in my column, so I'll do that here:

Grade-Point Averages, 2000-03 Drafts
TeamGPATeamGPA
Cubs3.63Indians2.50
Devil Rays3.50Padres2.50
Diamondbacks3.50Phillies2.50
Braves3.38Red Sox2.50
Athletics3.25White Sox2.50
Brewers3.25Angels2.25
Nationals3.25Royals2.25
Dodgers3.13Astros2.13
Mets3.13Orioles2.00
Twins3.13Marlins1.88
Rockies 3.00Tigers1.75
Rangers2.75Reds1.63
Blue Jays2.63Mariners1.50
Cardinals 2.63Yankees1.00
Giants2.63  
Pirates2.63MLB Average2.61

The grades are based solely on the talent signed out of each draft. Using the top-rated Cubs as an example, they get no extra credit or penalties given for making astute or poor use of extra picks (the Cubs had four first-rounders in 2001), giving up choices as free-agent compensation (Chicago forfeited its 2003 second-rounder for Mike Remlinger), making trades (Dontrelle Willis; or lefthander Justin Jones, who was part of the Nomar Garciaparra trade) or for unsigned players (Khalil Greene, a 14th-rounder in 2001). The GPA represents the average of the four draft classes, not the overall haul.

    Which lefthander in the Braves system has the most potential and who is closest to the big leagues now that Dan Meyer is gone? Is it Ray Aguilar, Macay McBride, Jake Stevens or even Kyle Bakker?

    James Qu
    Decatur, Ga.

Meyer was far and away the most advanced of the Braves' lefthanded pitching prospects until they included him in the Tim Hudson trade. Their three main southpaws of the future are Stevens, McBride and Chuck James, but don't count on any of them contributing in Atlanta this year. McBride is still struggling in Double-A, where he hit the wall hard last season, while Stevens and James are in high Class A.

Stevens is the youngest and best of that group. A third-round pick out of a Florida high school in 2003, he's 20 and commands three pitches: an 89-91 mph fastball that tops out at 94, an overhand curveball and a changeup. All three have the chance to be above-average pitches.

McBride, 22, was a first-round pick from a Georgia high school in 2001 and breezed through the lower minors. He can reach the low 90s with his fastball, but he hasn't shown the same feel for his slider and changeup that he demonstrated in Class A.

The Braves planned on taking James in the third round out of Chattahoochee Valley (Ala.) JC in 2002. But shortly before the draft, he tried to jump off a roof into a pool—only to fall short and injure both of his arms. He dropped to the 20th round, but has made up for it by going 12-9, 1.98 with 244 strikeouts in 200 pro innings. He works mainly with an 89-91 mph fastball and a nifty changeup, and projects more as a reliever unless he improves his stamina and slider.

    Why hasn't Orioles lefthander Adam Loewen improved his control? Why is Orioles first baseman Walter Young hitting so well at Triple-A? Does Orioles lefthander Richard Stahl have any of the stuff from when he was a No. 1 prospect? What are the chances of the Nationals picking Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon in the draft? What is happening with Cubs lefty Luke Hagerty? What player are the Orioles going to pick in the first round this year? Can you give me info on Nationals 2004 draft pick Ryan Harrison?

    Jeremy Dann
    Westminster, Md.

And now we have a new record for most questions asked in a single Ask BA submission. It's almost like getting caught in a Northern Virginia baseball chat, so I'll respond in lightning-round form.

• Loewen, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 draft, has an 5-11 strikeout-walk ratio through two starts and nine innings at high Class A Frederick. His career K-BB is now 115-97 in 126 pro innings. Loewen has had problems throwing strikes because he doesn't repeat his mechanics consistently, a problem that's easier to identify than fix. The good news is that after tearing his labrum last year, he was able to rehab his shoulder and avoid surgery.

• Young's ticket always has been his bat, so it's no real surprise that he's off to a hot start at .465/.531/.651 with one homer through 11 games. He has kept his strikeouts in check (just five in 43 at-bats), something he hasn't been able to do in the past.

• Stahl's stuff has dropped since Baltimore drafted him 18th overall in 1999, thanks to back and arm problems. His fastball sits around 90 mph now rather than reaching the mid-90s, and he has scrapped his curveball in favor of a slider. He's off to a good start at high Class A Frederick, with a 1-1, 1.50 record and 18 strikeouts in 12 innings through two starts.

• Gordon probably won't last past the first or second pick, so the Nationals aren't going to be able to get him at No. 4. If you're looking for a college third baseman they might select there, think Virginia's Ryan Zimmerman.

• The Marlins returned Hagerty to the Cubs after the Orioles selected him on Florida's behalf in the major league Rule 5 draft last December. Hagerty had control problems in big league camp, which ended his chance at making the Marlins, and has pitched just 23 innings since having Tommy John surgery in April 2003. The Cubs have brought him back slowly, and are continuing to do so by assigning him to extended spring training.

• The Orioles pick 13th in the first round, and it's a bit early to make an accurate prediction that deep in the draft. But I'll take a stab at it. Figuring that Baltimore will continue its recent trend of taking a college player who will sign at or below slot value, I'll guess . . . Miami third baseman Ryan Braun.

• Harrison was a 23rd-round pick last June out of South Carroll High in Sykesville, Md. One of the younger players in the 2004 draft, he didn't turn 18 until last July. Using a four-pitch mix fronted by a solid fastball and slider, he went 1-2, 4.29 with a 22-13 K-BB in 36 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Because he's so young, Harrison has started this season in extended spring training.

    I was just wondering when I can expect a Player Finder search option for the 2005 season. It's one of my favorite baseballamerica.com features and I'm lost without it. I can't find any 2005 info on where prospects such as Brian Bullington or Bill Murphy are playing. Are they in extended spring training?

    Brian D'Amico
    New York

Both Bullington and Murphy has been sidelined by injuries. Bullington has been out with shoulder soreness but is expected to join Triple-A Indianapolis by the end of the month. Murphy tore his left hamstring and the date of his return is indefinite. He'll probably join Triple-A Tucson when he's healthy.

As for the Player Finder, which allowed you to type in a player's name and view his statistics, it has thus far been a casualty of the switch in minor league statistics providers. I'll let BA.com general manager Kevin Goldstein address the subject:

There's a new provider for minor league stats this year and, needless to say, it has been a bumpy ride. Much of what you see at BA.com is all that is available in the current feed, and the problems aren't in our hands as I can't change the raw feed we receive. But I will have you know that we are currently the only place online right now giving you all available stats and boxes right now, though it's anything but a perfect setup. We're continually trying to improve the statistics area of our website. I'm really sorry for the inconvenience, but I do want you to know that we are doing everything we can.

April 13, 2005

Who would have guessed that 10 days into the season, the highest OPS in the major leagues would belong to . . . Brian Roberts? He's at 1.416, thanks to a .414/.485/.931 start that includes four homers, matching his total in 641 at-bats a year ago. Roberts did lead the American League with 50 doubles last year, so he has some pop, but I'll go out on a limb and predict that his 93-homer pace won't hold up.

    In reading the 2005 Prospect Handbook, it occurred to me that Jeremy Sowers is almost a clone of Tom Glavine. Same body almost, not overpowering stuff, but good at locating it and changing speeds. Is this a fair comparison? Or will Sowers not be nearly as good?

    Ryan Bublavy
    Cleveland

For at least a decade, it has seemed that every decent lefthanded pitching prospect who lacks an overwhelming fastball has been compared to Glavine. He's the prototype, of course, a future Hall of Famer with two Cy Young Awards and an outside shot at 300 wins. Being likened to Glavine isn't fair to prospects, most of whom won't come anywhere close to that kind of success, but that doesn't stop the comparisons from coming. I did a quick search of baseballamerica.com, and found pitchers from Cole Hamels (Phillies) to Paul Maholm (Pirates) to Macay McBride (Braves) and Mike Megrew (Dodgers) mentioned in the same breath as Glavine. I remember making the case a couple of years ago that all the Glavine parallels were too much . . . but that Chris George (Royals) had a legitimate claim. Whoops.

Sowers does have a similar style to Glavine, and I do like him. While in his prime, Glavine consistently threw harder than Sowers does now. Sowers, who has an 85-91 mph fastball, succeeds by moving four pitches around the strike zone and keeping hitters off balance. Like Glavine, he's 6-foot-1, and he'll probably fill out to around Glavine's 190 pounds.

When the Padres switched directions at the last minute and were scrambling for someone to pick with the No. 1 overall choice in the 2004 draft, they should have just played it safe and taken a polished college pitcher. If they didn't want to meet the asking price of Rice righthander Philip Humber, who signed as the No. 3 pick with the Mets for a $4.2 million big league contract, Sowers would have been a good backup plan. Taken sixth out of Vanderbilt, he signed for a straight $2.475 million bonus. He won his pro debut, turning in a line of 6-6-2-2-0-3 for high Class A Kinston on Saturday.

    The Mets placed Cuban righthander Alay Soler on the restricted list, essentially removing him from the 40-man roster. Exactly what does this mean, and what is the reasoning behind this move?

    David Stoner
    Atlanta

Soler and the offseason's other big-ticket Cuban defector, Angels outfielder Kendry Morales, have yet to make it the United States. The Mets gave Soler a $2.8 million major league contract in hopes he might help them by midseason, while Los Angeles was offering Morales a chance to crack its lineup after handing him a $3 million bonus and a big league deal that could reach $10 million.

Both Soler and Morales received asylum in the Dominican Republic, but they have yet to attain citizenship there. Until they do, they can't get a passport and thus can't enter the United States. By putting Soler on the restricted list, the Mets cleared a spot on their 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers.

It's anyone's guess when we'll finally see Soler and Morales. The Los Angeles Times reported this morning that it usually takes two to three years to obtain Dominican citizenship, and Dominican president Leonel Fernandez may be wary of expediting the process because he doesn't want to annoy Fidel Castro.

(Incidentally, David is a contributing photographer to Baseball America. That's his Joel Guzman photo on the front page of the website today.)

    Now that Rick Ankiel has converted from pitcher to outfielder, will Baseball America consider him eligible for the Cardinals Top 10 and the 2006 Prospect Handbook?

    Justin Riddick
    Nashville

In the March 9 Ask BA, I expressed doubt that Ankiel would be able to make it as a big league outfielder because he's already 25 and hasn't had regular at-bats since he was in high school eight years ago. He has yet to play this season after being removed from St. Louis' big league roster and clearing waivers, though he's expected to join Double-A Springfield in the near future.

Should he show enough prowess as a hitter, we'll consider him for future prospect lists. Our definition of "prospect" includes any player who hasn't exceeded the rookie limits of 130 at-bats or 50 innings in the majors. Ankiel has worked 242 innings for the Cardinals, but he has just 87 at-bats, and that's what we would look at when evaluating his merits as a position player.

April 6, 2005

Let's start by updating a couple of pieces of old business.

First, most of the major league Rule 5 picks have been resolved. Four made Opening Day big league rosters, four returned to their previous teams, two went on the 15-day disabled list of their selecting club and two were sent to the minors by the teams that chose them (one after a trade, the other after his former club declined to take him back). Here's the status of all 12 players:

Major League Rule 5 Picks
Player, PosNew ClubOld ClubStatus
Angel Garcia, rhp*TBMinreturned to Min
Andy Sisco, lhpKCChCstuck with KC
Tyrell Godwin, ofWasTortraded to Was, sent to minors by Was
Marcos Carvajal, rhp*ColLAstuck with Col
Matt Merricks, lhpColLAplaced on Col DL
Luke Hagerty, lhp*FlaChCreturned to ChC
Shane Victorino, ofPhiLAdeclined by LA, sent to minors by Phi
Tyler Johnson, lhpOakStLreturned to StL
Ryan Rowland-Smith, lhpMinSeareturned to Sea
D.J. Houlton, rhpLAHoustuck with LA
Adam Stern, ofBosAtlplaced on Bos DL
Tony Blanco, of/1bWasCinstuck with Was
*Acquired from different selecting club.

When I was constantly updating the 2005 draft order as free agents signed during the winter, I was under the mistaken impression that the compensation picks for failure to sign first-round picks would come in the order those players were drafted in 2004. However, they come in the regular 2005 draft order, regardless of where the players were chosen. If you want to peruse the 2005 draft order, you can do so here.

    With the recent revelations of Athletics outfielder Javier Herrera among 38 players suspended for steroid use, how does it affect his status as a prospect?

    Daniel Thompson
    Bristol, England

    Which of the 38 minor leaguers who were suspended were the most surprising in your eyes? Personally, I'm disappointed with two Cubs farmhands, Matt Craig and Carlos Vasquez. With that said, do you see any of the suspended minor leaguers getting back on track?

    C.J. Keller
    Prattville, Ala.

I think the repercussions for most of these players will end when their suspensions conclude. Nine of the 38 were released during spring training. For the other 29, once they do their time, their careers should progress normally as long as they don't test positive again. If these prospects produce in the minors and earn promotions to the big leagues, their lone positive test—everyone but Athletics catcher David Castillo was a first-time offender—probably will just be considered a youthful indiscretion.

If Herrera, the MVP of the short-season Northwest League last year, continues to deliver on his five-tool potential, by the time he reaches the majors, the fact that he failed a steroid test as a 19-year-old won't be a major story. Most of the players on the list are very marginal prospects, and are probably going to remain or fade into obscurity anyway. The only other two players caught who made the 2005 Prospect Handbook were Angels first baseman Baltazar Lopez and Cubs corner infielder Matt Craig.

I can't really say that any of the 38 players were more surprising than the others. It's interesting to note that 17 of them were pitchers, more evidence that it's just not hitters who are seeking an advantage. None of these players stood out as a hulk who had put on a ton of muscle or as someone whose numbers took a stunning upturn in 2004. Almost all of these guys could be classified as hitters who need to develop more power or as pitchers who need to develop more velocity.

Remember, too, that several minor leaguers have failed drug tests in previous seasons. The difference now is that it serves Major League Baseball to make the names public to try to demonstrate that baseball won't condone steroid use.

We haven't seen the end of this story. Except for Cardinals outfielder Sal Frisella, an apparent offseason violator, the list only included players whose clubs held spring training in Arizona. Given that another 18 teams train in Florida, when that list is released, it probably will contain another 50-60 players.

There's no word on when that list will be made public. The Associated Press reported today that three Pirates minor leaguers have been suspended for failing drug tests in 2004. Righthander Brian Mallette drew a 30-game suspension as a second-time offender, while third baseman Tom Evans and outfielder Jon Nunnally will sit for 15 games as first-time offenders. Mallette (Reds) and Nunnally (Brewers) were with other organizations at the time they were tested last year.

    On BA's organization talent rankings, the Twins at No. 4 included Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel, who barely stayed under the at-bat cutoff to still be considered prospects, while the Indians at No. 7 excluded Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Phillips, who just missed. Given that those five players have roughly the same big league experience, are these two organizations more of less dead even in young talent?

    Jay Levin
    Philadelphia

Our guidelines for whether a player still qualifies for prospect consideration are the same as the big league rookie standards, though we don't include service time. Any player with no more than 130 at-bats or 50 innings in the majors is still a prospect. That leads to the occasional situation where someone who's not a rookie is still a prospect (Mauer) or guys who barely played in the majors in the most recent year lost their prospect status in previous seasons (Peralta, Phillips). If Sizemore had nine fewer big league at-bats in 2004, he would have been No. 1 on our Indians prospect list.

Getting back to the question, it is fair to say the Indians and Twins have similar young talent. I'd still give Minnesota the edge, because I like both their top-end talent and their depth a little better than Cleveland's. But it's also a testament to the job the Indians are doing in scouting and player development that they could graduate Josh Bard, Ben Broussard, Jason Davis, Travis Hafner, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Peralta, Phillips and Sizemore from their prospect list to the majors over the last two years and still rank seventh in terms of minor league talent. Wow.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles have two rookies in their bullpen: righthanders D.J. Houlton, a major league Rule 5 pick, and anonymous minor leaguer Steve Schmoll, who barely pitched this spring and has 20 innings above high Class A. Can Schmoll really be successful in the majors, and can Houlton stick all year?

    Thomas Kaiser
    Los Angeles

Schmoll actually has a better chance of succeeding in the majors than Houlton does of staying there all season. The Dodgers signed him out of Maryland as a free agent before the 2003 draft, as he was eligible to do so because he was a fifth-year senior. Schmoll is tough on hitters because he uses a submarine delivery that even big leaguers aren't accustomed to seeing. He gets a lot of run on an 87-90 mph fastball, and he also has a cutter that rises.

Schmoll posted a 1.81 ERA in his first full season last year, and followed up with a 1.42 ERA in the Arizona Fall League. Los Angeles has three pitchers on the 15-days disabled list (Wilson Alvarez, Eric Gagne, Brad Penny), which helped Schmoll make the club, and he's probably headed back to the minors once they get healthy. But his unorthodox delivery and solid stuff could allow him to get outs at the major league level. Even before the rash of injuries, the Dodgers thought he had the possibility of helping them by midseason.

Los Angeles is carrying 12 pitchers on its active roster in order to hang on to Houlton. As a major league Rule 5 choice, he can't be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers and then being offered back to his former organization (the Astros) for half the $50,000 draft price.

Houlton pitched well in Double-A last year, going 12-5, 2.94 with 159 strikeouts in as many innings, but it was his second stint there and he wasn't young for the level at 24. In 2003, he got hammered in his only crack at Triple-A, going 3-4, 5.40 with 48 strikeouts in 62 innings. He's a finesse righty who relies on his curveball and needs to do a better job of locating his high-80s fastball. While he has great competitiveness and work ethic, Houlton projects as a middle reliever. At some point, the Dodgers are going to want to carry more than 13 hitters, and Houlton's upside doesn't merit going out of their way to keep him.

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