Organization of the Year: St. Louis Cardinals
ST. LOUIS—Late in each season, Gary LaRocque takes a tour of the minors and talks about the month that matters most. It may be August when the Cardinals’ senior adviser [...]
If you have a question, send it to email@example.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
Aug. 31, 2005
BA correspondent Marc Topkin has a couple of interesting Devil Rays nuggets in the St. Petersburg Times today.
First, Vince Naimoli could cede his role as managing partner to Stuart Sternberg shortly after the season ends. That likely would result in a front-office shakeup which would include a new general manager replacing Chuck LaMar, who has held that position throughout the franchise's history. Here's one suggestion for a candidate: Scouting director/assistant GM Tim Wilken, who helped build the Blue Jays teams that won consecutive World Series championships and were perennial contenders.
Second, Topkin reports that shortstop B.J. Upton likely won't be called up from Triple-A Durham in September, and that Upton and Delmon Young may spend next year in the minor leagues. The Devil Rays are focusing on contending in 2007 or 2008, and keeping Upton and Young in the minors would delay their eligibility for arbitration and free agency.
If I were a Devil Rays fan, this would make me livid. Upton's defensive problems and need for a position change aside, he and Young are the two most talented players in the minors and ready to play in Tampa Bay. But purely for financial reasons, they won't get that chance next year? That's unconscionable.
Randall A. Scott
We do break down the scouting scale in our annual Prospect Handbook. Some clubs use the 20-80 scale, which allows for more distinction (giving a 55 grade rather than a 50 or 60), while others use a 2-8 scale. The grades can be used for an overall assessment of a player, or to evaluate a specific tool. From top to bottom, an 80 is outstanding, a 70 is well above average, a 60 is above average (or plus), a 50 is major league average, a 40 is below average, a 30 is well below average and a 20 is poor.
Scouts don't hand out 80s very often. They're the equivalent of 40-homer power, a 1.7-second pop time from the plate to second base, mid-90s velocity or 3.9-second time from the left side of the plate to first base (4.0 seconds from the right side).
Different scouts do grade players differently. Teams don't share their evaluations on a widespread basis with other teams, and no consensus is publicly available.
Good news for Murton: The recent Matt Lawton and Todd Hollandsworth trades give manager Dusty Baker no choice other than to play Murton, who merely hit .339 while getting only sporadic playing time during his first month in the majors.
Murton, a 2003 supplemental first-round pick by the Red Sox, wound up with the Cubs in the Nomar Garciaparra trade last year. The Expos wanted three prospects to give up Orlando Cabrera in the deal, but they weren't interested in Murton. To get the deal done, Chicago GM Jim Hendry offered to take Murton and send infielder Brendan Harris to Montreal.
Kurt's Paul O'Neill comparison holds up pretty well, especially at the plate. In our Best Tools list for the Cubs during the offseason, we rated Murton as being the system's best hitter for average and having its best strike-zone discipline. He hits more for average than power, though he has size (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) and strength and can put on a show in batting practice. He won home run derbies at the Connie Mack World Series (1998), the Cape Cod League all-star game (2002) and the Florida State League all-star game (2004). Like O'Neill, Murton should settle in as a .290-.310 hitter with at least 20 homers a year.
Murton runs well for his size and plays a solid outfield, but he doesn't have O'Neill's arm. That's his lone weakness from a tools standpoint, and it limits him to left field. But he's a legit prospect who should be an everyday player in the majorsif Baker gives him the opportunity.
Nick Stavinoha was the only player the Cardinals drafted in June who went directly to a full-season club. Since he arrived, he has been tearing up the low Class A Midwest League. Do the Cardinals really have a legitimate prospect here, or is his success due more to the fact that he's older than most kids in the league? If he's legit, how did he slip to the seventh round? What are the rest of his tools like?
South Windsor, Conn.
As a 23-year-old who played for a premier college program, Stavinoha wasn't going to be tested much by the MWL. Though they acknowledge that he should be playing at a higher classification, league managers I've spoken to like Stavinoha's bat. If he makes it to the major leagues, his hitting prowess will be what takes him there. He has good pop and controls the strike zone exceptionally well. Speed isn't his game at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, but he does have some arm strength and plays a decent right field.
Stavinoha began his college athletic career as a long snapper on the Houston football team, then spent two seasons as a catcher at San Jacinto (Texas) JC before transferring to LSU. The Tigers had a gifted defensive catcher in Matt Liuzza, prompting Stavinoha's move to the outfield. He's not a Gold Glover behind the plate, but it would be worthwhile for the Cardinals to see if he could handle catching as a pro.
Signed for $15,000, Stavinoha lasted until the seventh round because he was an older player and not an exceptional athlete. But each draft produces guys who may lack all-around tools but hit their way to the majors, and Stavinoha could fit that profile.
Aug. 24, 2005
An update to the Alex Gordon question from the last Ask BA: The No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft didn't attend classes at Nebraska on Monday and intends to meet with the Royals over Labor Day weekend. Kansas City has offered $3.8 million, while Gordon reportedly is seeking a contract similar to what Stephen Drew got from the Diamondbacks, a $5.5 million major league deal with a $4 million bonus.
There's lots of draft news going on this week. No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton is talking about attending classes at Louisburg (N.C.) JC next Tuesday if the Diamondbacks don't bridge the gap between their $4.7 million offer and his $6.25 million price. If he goes to Louisburg, Arizona will retain his rights but wouldn't be able to sign him until after his junior college season ends next spring.
The Tigers' negotiations with Cameron Maybin have taken a surprising turn. After Detroit previously offered $3 million with Maybin looking for $3.2 million, the sides appeared close to a deal. But the Detroit Free Press reports that Tigers legal counsel John Westhoff informed Maybin's advisor, Brian Goldberg, that owner Mike Ilitch had reduced the club's offer to the low $2 million range. Sounds like MLB talked Ilitch out of vastly exceeding the recommended $1.95 million bonus for Maybin's draft slot (10th overall).
Classes begin today at Tennessee, and Volunteers ace Luke Hochevar has yet to come to terms with the Dodgers after sliding to the No. 40 pick. Los Angeles has offered $2.5 millionthe equivalent of fifth-overall-pick moneywhile Hochevar reportedly wants $4 million.
As always, stay tuned at BaseballAmerica.com for breaking draft developments.
Peter submitted this question last week in my regular Wednesday afternoon chat at ESPN.com, and it fascinated me so much that I asked him to let me tackle it in Ask BA as well. (In case you're wondering why I didn't chat today at ESPN.com, I've been bumped to Thursday this week.) I know I'm going to leave out some deserving names, but I'm going to limit myself to two names for each position.
For GM, I'd take Billy Beane or John Schuerholz. Beane's ability to field a consistent contender on a shoestring budget has been well documented. Schuerholz, the only GM to win World Series championships in both leagues, is destined for Cooperstown and still at the top of his game.
I'll use a broad definition for assistant GM, and go with Dan Jennings (Marlins) and Paul Ricciarini (Astros). Both guys have lots of scouting acumen, baseball contacts and energy, exactly what's needed for that job.
For farm director, I'll go with Dayton Moore (Braves) or Keith Lieppman (Athletics). Moore's work has made him one of the game's top GM candidates, while Lieppman has presided over the successful development of several Oakland prospects for the last 14 years.
My two choices for scouting director are Mike Radcliff (Twins) and Logan White (Dodgers). Radcliff, the dean of current scouting directors with 12 years of service, has helped provide the foundation of Minnesota's recent success with a series of strong drafts. His corps of scouts also has been instrumental in stealing players such as Johan Santana (Rule 5 draft) and Francisco Liriano (A.J. Pierzynski trade). Before White's first draft for Los Angeles in 2002, Baseball America rated the Dodgers system as the 25th-best in the game; three years later, the Dodgers had risen to No. 2 in our rankings.
Francisco Liriano is the most dominant pitcher in Triple-A right now, with an 8-1, 1.59 record, a .160 opponent average (with just two homers) and a 93-22 strikeout-walk ratio in 79 innings. Why haven't the Twins called him up, especially considering their fifth starter, Joe Mays, is getting shelled on a regular basis?
I don't see any reason not to promote Liriano at this point. Mays has won just one of his last eight starts, going 1-5, 7.75, and he's not fooling hitters at all. Liriano not only has gaudy statistics, but also impressive stuff to go with them: mid-90s fastball, mid-80s slider, tantalizing changeup. He's commanding three pitches and carving up hitters with them. There's nothing more for him to prove in Triple-A.
The Twins have surged to within 2½ games of the wild-card lead, and the difference between Liriano and Mays ultimately could be the difference between reaching and falling short of the postseason. And to think that Minnesota got him as the third player (behind righthanders Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser) in the A.J. Pierzynski deal in November 2003. At the time, Liriano had battled shoulder problems for two years and pitched just nine innings that season. But Twins scout Sean Johnson took a liking to Liriano during instructional league and recommended grabbing him in a trade.
LeBlanc almost made the Top 30 I compiled, and he projects as a third- to fifth-round pick in next year's draft. The reason he wouldn't go higher is that his stuff is decent but not special, not even for a lefty. His changeup is his best pitch, but wasn't as good as usual in the second half of the Cape schedule, nor was his command. He also has an 86-89 mph fastball and a so-so curveball. He's a very good college pitcher but it's difficult to project him pitching in the front of a big league rotation at this point.
Aug. 17, 2005
Jeff Francoeur is deservedly getting a lot of attention for an impact rookie season, but how about the far less heralded Jason Vargas? Drafted in the second round out of Long Beach State last year, he has gone 3-1, 2.89 in eight appearances (four starts) with the Marlins. He took his first loss last night against the Padres, in part because Miguel Olivo missed a sign for a squeeze play, instead swung away and drilled a triple.
Burrell went No. 1 overall to the Phillies in 1998, one pick ahead of where Gordon went to the Royals in June. Both were considered the best all-around college hitter available in their drafts. Burrell showed more power than Gordon did, not that Gordon is a slouch in that department.
The biggest difference between the two is Gordon's athleticism. He's a better runner and defender than Burrell was, and while both were third basemen coming out of college, it was apparent that Burrell would have to switch positions. Gordon worked hard on his defense at Nebraska and should be able to stay at the hot corner. He's not a burner, but he's faster and more of a basestealing threat than Burrell was.
As for the second question, there's almost no chance that Gordon will play one more season for the Cornhuskers. His lengthy negotiations are typical of picks at the top of the draft. There's no acrimony between Gordon and the Royals, but it's just taking time to get a deal done. Kansas City has offered him a $3.8 million bonus, and he'll probably wangle a big league contract in the end.
The last No. 2 overall pick to sign quickly came five years ago, when Adam Johnson agreed to terms with the Twins on June 19. Since then, Mark Prior (Aug. 22), B.J. Upton (Sept. 16), Rickie Weeks (Aug. 7) and Justin Verlander (Oct. 23) all negotiated well into the summer.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Slowey is the real deal. He doesn't project as a future No. 1 or 2 starter, but he has very good command of three solid-average pitches: a fastball, slider and changeup. He was a third-team All-American this spring, going 14-2, 2.18 at Winthrop, leading NCAA Division I in strikeout-walk ratio (134-13 in 136 innings) and fewest walks per nine innings (0.86) and ranking in the top 10 in wins, strikeouts and opponent average (.188).
A college pitcher who can put three pitches where he wants them usually will carve up hitters in the lower minors, and that's what Slowey has done. He faced 25 batters in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, allowing two hits and no walks while fanning 15. In the Midwest League, he has gone 3-0, 2.27 with a 46-5 K-BB ratio in 44 innings. He's ready for another promotion and it's possible he could jump on the fast track like Jesse Crain and Scott Baker did in the Twins system in recent years. Both Crain and Baker ended their first pro season in the MWL, and their second in Triple-A.
Carpenter will be back, and I don't think the Cardinals will hesitate to pick up Mark Mulder's reasonable $7.25 million option, especially considering that they gave up Dan Haren, Daric Barton and Kiko Calero to get him. That leaves Morris (free agent), Suppan ($5 million option or $1 million buyout) and Marquis (arbitration-eligible after making $3 million this year).
My guess is that St. Louis brings back two of the other three starters, most likely Morris and either Suppan or Marquis. The free-agent pickings look slim, with A.J. Burnett and Kevin Millwood the only options more attractive than Morris. The Cardinals system isn't teeming with prospects, but it does offer two who can compete for the rotation next year. It's unlikely that a contender would trust two spots to rookies, but the No. 5 job could come down to Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright.
Reyes would be the favorite to win that battle, and he already gave a taste of things to come by easily handling the Brewers in an emergency start on Aug. 9. He has a plus fastball that can get into the mid-90s, and his curveball and changeup are solid. He throws strikes and his biggest need is just to stay healthy. Injuries dogged him at Southern California, and he missed three weeks in July with a strained joint in his shoulder.
Wainwright has bounced back this season after suffering through his worst year as a pro in 2004, when he was bothered by a strained elbow ligament. It's possible that the Cardinals could use the loser of the Reyes-Wainwright battle in middle relief in the majors until the need for another starter arises.
The Cardinals made Narveson a second-round pick out of a North Carolina high school in 2000, and he quickly emerged as one of their top pitching prospects. He blew out his elbow the following year, however, and required Tommy John surgery. A lefthander, Narveson has regained his stuff, which is average across the board. St. Louis sent him to the Rockies in the Walker deal last August, and he went to the Red Sox when they dumped Byung-Hyun Kim in March. Boston designated Narveson for assignment when they needed a 40-man roster spot to promote Roberto Petagine, and the Cardinals claimed Narveson on waivers.
Narveson has leveled off in Triple-A this year, going 4-5, 4.73 with a 73-50 K-BB ratio in 116 innings, but he can be a useful pitcher for the Cardinals. Though he's not on the level of Reyes or Wainwright, he's still one of the best pitching prospects in the upper levels of the St. Louis system. He projects as a swingman, capable of making occasional starts and pitching middle relief.
Aug. 3, 2005
This time of year, I usually rank the top 10 prospects who changed teams in the flurry of July trades. Problem is, this year there wasn't a flurry of trades and there weren't 10 prospects worth ranking. So here's my Top 5:
1. Omar Quintanilla, ss (Athletics to Rockies in the Eric Brynes-Joe Kennedy trade).
2. Yorman Bazardo, rhp (Marlins to Mariners in the Ron Villone trade). For more on Bazardo, see below.
3. Chip Ambres, of (Red Sox to Royals in the Tony Graffanino trade).
4. Travis Chick, rhp (Padres to Reds in the Joe Randa trade).
5. Eduardo Sierra, rhp (Yankees to Rockies in the Shawn Chacon trade).
Ask BA will be on hiatus next week, but I'll be back with a new edition on Aug. 17.
With the deals Seattle made, where would you rank Yorman Bazardo among the Mariners' top prospects? Would Mike Flannery and Nathanel Mateo make the Top 30? And what do you think is the likely future for Jesse Foppert?
Grand Lake, Colo.
Not much has gone right for the Mariners during Bill Bavasi's tenure as general manager, as Seattle has gone from 93-69 the season before his arrival to 108-158 since. But unlike the GMs of other non-contenders, Bavasi found a way to spin some players his club really didn't need into prospects before the trade deadline. In two days, he traded: Miguel Olivo to the Padres for catcher Miguel Ojeda and righthander Mateo; Randy Winn to the Giants for Yorvit Torrealba and Foppert; and Ron Villone to the Marlins for righties Bazardo and Flannery.
Foppert could be a real coup. He hasn't bounced all the way back from Tommy John surgery in September 2003, but before he got hurt he was the game's best pitching prospect. The track record for recovery from that operation is very good, and Foppert is still just 25. If he regains the mid-90s fastball, hard slider and splitter he once had, look out. I'm still trying to figure out how Seattle got Foppert and a potential starting catcher who at worst is a good backup (Torrealba) for a mediocre big leaguer like Winn.
The other righthanders the Mariners acquired all have promise as well. Bazardo likely will crack the back half of our Seattle Top 10 in the offseason. He throws in the mid-90s and has good command, but he needs to refine his secondary pitches (slider, changeup) so he'll miss as many bats as he should. He still needs more polish, but at 21 he has plenty of time.
Flannery can hit 94-95 mph with his fastball and flashes a good slider, and he's not far from being able to help a big league bullpen. Mateo pitches in the low 90s and has made strides with his curveball this summer. All in all, a very good haul considering what little the Mariners had to give up.
Kubel had put himself in position to compete for a starting job with the Twins after hitting .352/.414/.590 in the minors and .300 during a late-season callup to Minnesota in 2004. But then he tore the anterior-cruciate ligament and did further damage to his left knee in a collision on a popup with Tigers second baseman Ryan Raburn in the Arizona Fall League.
Kubel is currently at the Twins' training base in Fort Myers, Fla., rehabilitating from knee surgery and taking cuts in the batting cage. He's not ready to run on his knee, so he won't see any game action during the regular season. Minnesota farm director Jim Rantz anticipates that Kubel will return to the diamond during instructional league. The Twins probably won't send him to the AFL because he hasn't faced that caliber of pitching in nearly a year.
The good news is that Kubel is still just 23 and speed wasn't a major part of his game, so there's no reason he can't get back to where he was a year ago. Rantz says Kubel should be 100 percent by spring training next year. "He's got a great attitude," Rantz says. "He's got a great work ethic. He's in our rehab place in Fort Myers, always working, never missing a thing. He knows what's ahead of him. He's on a mission to get back to the big leagues."
I would have thought Wagner would have earned his first big league save by now, two years after he was a first-round pick out of Houston. That will have to wait for at least a little while longer, though, because he's on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.
Wagner still has the big-time slider and the plus fastball to be a closer, though pitching in the majors is about more than just pure stuff. His slider breaks so much that he struggles at times to throw it for strikes, and he needs to at least create the illusion it will be a strike to get hitters to chase it out of the zone. He pitched well for the first two months of 2005, and then he said he started to get hit hard when he fell into a predictable pitching pattern. His shoulder problems also affected his mechanics before he went on the DL.
When he was coming out of college, Wagner did create some concern among scouts with his delivery. He threw with a lot of effort and some scouts predicted his arm action would lead to an injury, while others said he was strong enough (he's 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds) to survive it. If he stays healthy and makes the necessary adjustments, he can still be a frontline closer.