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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

Jan. 21, 2005

Rather than complain about the spending of other clubs, maybe Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy should look in a mirror to find the biggest problem with his team. Sell the Pirates, Kevin. I'm so sick of owners bemoaning the cost of running a club and predicting bankruptcy lies ahead for some franchises. Why would anyone believe anything an owner says about the state of baseball finances, when they've lied time and time again?

This is your last Ask BA for a couple of weeks. We've got to finish the 2005 Prospect Handbook, and then I'm taking a little time off.

    With the Mets' trade of Ian Bladergroen to the Red Sox for Doug Mientkiewicz, who becomes the top first-base prospect for New York and who fills his slot on the team's Top 10 Prospects list?

    Josh Drennen
    Shepherstown, W.Va.

    What's the ceiling of first-base prospect Ian Bladergroen, sent to the Red Sox in exchange for Doug Mientkiewicz?

    Ryan Swanzey
    Manchester, Mass.

It's hard to know what exactly to make of Bladergroen. A 44th-round pick in 2002 who signed as a draft-and-follow the next year, he tore up the low Class A South Atlantic League for three months last season, hitting .342/.397/.595 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs in 72 games. But at 21 he wasn't young for his level, and he tore a ligament in his left wrist in July, so we never got a chance to see if he could sustain that pace in the SAL or how he might handle a promotion.

Bladergroen is an interesting hitter, but he really hasn't faced a true challenge in pro ball and I'm not ready to label him a blue-chip prospect yet. Scouts also are a little skeptical of his bat speed and how it will play at higher levels. When the Prospect Handbook comes out, you'll find Bladergroen at No. 9 on my Red Sox list, between catcher Kelly Shoppach and lefthander Abe Alvarez.

Replacing Bladergroen on our Mets Top 10 will be easy, because 2004 first-rounder Philip Humber finally signed after the original list came out. Humber will be No. 3, behind outfielder Lastings Milledge and righthander Yusmeiro Petit, pushing fellow 2004 draft righty Gaby Hernandez down to fill what had been Bladergroen's No. 4 spot.

New York's top first-base prospect is now Craig Brazell, who projects as a big league backup. The only other first baseman on our Top 30 is Brett Harper.

    Following up on your chart listing players who went straight from the draft to the majors, what was the story with Brian Milner, the only high school position player to make the jump? I looked him up and saw he went 4-for-9 as an 18-year-old, then never was heard from again.

    David R. Mark
    Maplewood, N.J.

I just happened to write a short feature on Brian Milner in the Nov. 10, 1991 issue of Baseball America, so let's go to the archives . . .

A catcher from Southwest High in Fort Worth, Texas, Milner was one of the top prospects in the 1978 draft. But he also had a scholarship to play football and baseball at Arizona State, and that and his diabetic condition caused him to slip. The Blue Jays took him in the seventh round, and were elated.

"I was involved in signing Darrell Porter when I was with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Gary Carter when I was with the Montreal Expos, and I think Brian has more raw ability than either of them," said legendary Toronto scout Bobby Mattick, who knew a little something about talent, having signed Don Baylor, Bobby Grich and Frank Robinson, among many others.

To sign, Milner received $150,000—to put that in perspective, the draft bonus record entering 1978 was $125,000—and an immediate ticket to the majors. The Blue Jays had just put outfielder Rick Bosetti on the disabled list and had an open roster spot. Milner's new teammates greeted him by good-naturedly putting a baby bottle filled with beer in his locker.

On June 23, he appeared in his first big league (and pro) game, going 1-for-4 in an 8-3 loss to Cleveland. He grounded out to shortstop in his first at-bat against Rick Waits, and collected his first hit with a single off Waits in the ninth. Milner's only other big league game came three days later, a famous 24-10 rout of Baltimore. Milner went 3-for-5 with a triple and two RBIs.

Afterward, Milner went to Rookie-level Medicine Hat, where he hit .307-4-36 in 51 games. But he also tore his stomach lining diving for a ball, the first in a string of injuries (bone chips in his elbow, a hernia, shoulder and knee problems) that would undermine his career. After he hit .138 in 37 games at Double-A in 1982, the Blue Jays released him.

    In reading your ranking of the top four pitchers in baseball in the last Ask BA, I was surprised by the omission of Scott Kazmir. The knock on him seems to be that he doesn't have a major league-ready changeup and his control slipped a bit as he moved up, but his performance at Tampa Bay seemed to solidify that he could be a top-of-the-rotation starter or an excellent closer. Can you share what separates him from the four pitchers you mentioned, and what other pitchers that you may rate ahead of him?

    Jim Schubert
    Milwaukee

Confession time: I used the phrase "I put Cain fourth" when I meant "I put Cain fourth among righthanders." Whoops.

On my personal Top 50, I ranked Kazmir No. 7 overall, and the only pitcher I had ahead of him was Felix Hernandez. (Seems like I can't write an Ask BA these days without mentioning Hernandez, doesn't it?) To atone for my error, I'll leave you with my top 10 overall pitching prospects:

1. Felix Hernandez, rhp, Mariners
2. Scott Kazmir, lhp, Devil Rays
3. Adam Miller, rhp, Indians
4. Chad Billingsley, rhp, Dodgers
5. Matt Cain, rhp, Giants
6. Jeff Niemann, rhp, Devil Rays
7. Edwin Jackson, rhp, Dodgers
8. Jeff Francis, lhp, Rockies
9. Dan Meyer, lhp, Athletics
10. Mike Hinckley, lhp, Nationals

Jan. 19, 2005

Quick answers to two questions I'm getting frequent email about:

Yes, I still expect first-rounders Jeff Niemann (Devil Rays), Jered Weaver (Angels) and Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks) to sign before the 2005 draft.

The 2005 Prospect Handbook is nearing completion, so those of you who bought the book directly from Baseball America should receive it before the end of February.

    After losing Adrian Beltre to the Mariners, will the Dodgers move top prospect Joel Guzman from shortstop to third base, his more natural position considering his size?

    James Rajacich
    Victorville, Calif.

Most clubs won't move a player to a less challenging position until he proves he can't handle the one he's currently at, and that's the case with the Dodgers and Guzman. Already 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and still filling out, Guzman probably won't be able to stick at shortstop for the long term. But he does have a plus-plus arm and surprisingly smooth actions, and he currently grades out as an average to above-average defender at short. Los Angeles plans on keeping him there this year in Double-A.

A lot of scouts think that with his size and power, Guzman profiles best as a right fielder in the mold of a young Juan Gonzalez. He should be able to handle first base or third base, but the Dodgers have James Loney and Andy LaRoche coming along at those positions. It's very possible that Guzman could break into the majors as a third baseman, then move to the outfield once LaRoche is ready to take over at the hot corner. Regardless of where he plays, Guzman's bat should make him a star.

Ah, a third straight Ask BA with a Felix Hernandez-related question . . .

As part of the Prospect Handbook, several of us BA editors compile our personal Top 50 Prospects lists. No one who reads Ask BA will be surprised that I ranked Hernandez as the top pitching prospect in the game. I put Cain fourth, with Adam Miller and Chad Billingsley in between him and Hernandez.

There's not much difference between Hernandez and Cain, but I do clearly prefer Hernandez. The biggest advantage Hernandez has is that he's 18 months younger. He has no history of arm trouble, while Cain had a stress fracture in his elbow in 2003. Hernandez also has better command and a better changeup, not to mention the slider that's supposed to be his best pitch if the Mariners allow him to throw it.

Cain obviously has a lot going for him. He already has pitched well in Double-A at age 19, though his control slipped a notch at that level. He has two power pitches, a 93-97 mph fastball and a curveball, and plenty of time to refine that changeup. He's far and away the best prospect in the Giants system, and he was fully healthy in 2004. I do agree that he just got tired at the end of the season, pitching 159 innings after totaling 93 in his first two years as a pro.

He's pretty much forgotten now, but hard-throwing righthander Mike Adamson went straight from the June 1967 draft to the Orioles. The Phillies made Adamson a first-round pick (18th overall) in the very first draft in 1965, but he decided to attend Southern California when they wouldn't meet his $100,000 asking price. After starring for the Trojans and the Alaska League's Alaska Goldpanners, Adamson went No. 1 in the secondary phase in June 1967 and signed for $75,000.

"After watching Mike work, and then watching the guys we already have work, we figured he could help us—now," Orioles general manager Harry Dalton said. "This wasn't an inducement to get him to sign. We really figure he can help. If it turns out that Mike's over his head, which is a possibility, then we may have to send him out."

Adamson came to terms with Baltimore on June 27 and made his big league (and pro) debut on July 1 against the Indians. Just 19 at the time, he worked the final two innings of a 6-0 loss and put up twos across the board (hits, runs, earned runs, walks and strikeouts). Cleveland scored twice in the ninth, on Rocky Colavito's RBI single and Chuck Hinton's steal of home.

Four days later, Adamson made his first start, allowing two runs in six hits against the White Sox in a game Chicago won 3-2 in 11 innings. Adamson walked seven and struck out four, and helped his own cause with an RBI triple. He made another start on July 14 against the Red Sox, taking the loss when he surrendered a two-run homer to Tony Conigliaro in the first inning and three more runs before being pulled in the second. That dropped his record to 0-1, 8.38.

The Orioles had seen enough and demoted Adamson to Triple-A Rochester, where he went 3-4, 1.95 the rest of the season. That was pretty much the story of Adamson's career. He never earned a victory in the majors, going 0-4, 7.46 in 11 games from 1967-69, but had consistent success in Triple-A, where he led the International League in strikeouts in 1969. His career ended in 1971.

In 40 years of drafts, 20 players have gone to the major leagues without stopping in the minors. Here's the complete list:

Draft Picks Who Went Straight To The Majors
Player, Pos., SchoolDraftTeam, Round (Overall)Debut
Mike Adamson, rhp, U. of Southern CaliforniaJune secondary, 1967Orioles, 1st (No. 1)July 1, 1967
Steve Dunning, rhp, Stanford U.June regular, 1970Indians, 1st (No. 2)June 14, 1970
Burt Hooton, rhp, U. of TexasJune secondary delayed, 1971Cubs, 1st (No. 2)June 17, 1971
Rob Ellis, of, Michigan State U.June secondary delayed, 1971Brewers, 1st (No. 3)June 18, 1971
Pete Broberg, rhp, Dartmouth CollegeJune secondary delayed, 1971Senators, 1st (No. 1)June 20, 1971
Dave Roberts, 3b, U. of OregonJune regular, 1972Padres, 1st (No. 1)June 7, 1972
Dick Ruthven, rhp, Fresno State U.January secondary, 1973Phillies, 1st (No. 1)April 17, 1973
Dave Winfield, of, U. of MinnesotaJune regular, 1973Padres, 1st (No. 4)June 19, 1973
David Clyde, lhp, HS—HoustonJune regular, 1973Rangers, 1st (No. 1)June 27, 1973
Eddie Bane, lhp, Arizona State U.June regular, 1973Twins, 1st (No. 11)July 4, 1973
Mike Morgan, rhp, HS—Las VegasJune regular, 1978Athletics, 1st (No. 4)June 11, 1978
Bob Horner, 3b, Arizona State U.June regular, 1978Braves, 1st (No. 1)June 16, 1978
Tim Conroy, lhp, HS—Monroeville, Pa.June regular, 1978Athletics, 1st (No. 20)June 23, 1978
Brian Milner, c, HS—Fort Worth, TexasJune regular, 1978Blue Jays, 7thJune 23, 1978
Pete Incaviglia, of, Oklahoma State U.June regular, 1985Expos, 1st (No. 8)April 8, 1986*
Jim Abbott, lhp, U. of Michigan1988Angels, 1st (No. 8)April 8, 1989
John Olerud, 1b, Washington State U.1989Blue Jays, 3rdSept. 3, 1989
Darren Dreifort, rhp, Wichita State U.1993Dodgers, 1st (No. 2)April 7, 1994
Ariel Prieto, rhp, Palm Springs (Western League)1995Athletics, 1st (No. 5)July 2, 1995
Xavier Nady, of, U. of California2000Padres, 2ndSept. 30, 2000
*Made debut with Rangers after trade.

Jan. 12, 2005

The draft-pick compensation chart is just about complete. In the last week, Type A free agents Carlos Beltran and Derek Lowe have changed teams, giving the Astros and Red Sox two extra choices each. Type B Gregg Zaun returned to the Blue Jays, so no selections will change hands over him. The Mets signed No. 3 overall pick Philip Humber, so they won't get a supplemental first-rounder in June for losing him.

The only remaining compensation free agent who hasn't signed is Type B Brent Mayne, and he's leaning to retirement after failing to re-sign with the Dodgers by the Jan. 8 deadline. Here's where we stand:

First Round
17. Yankees (from Phillies for Type B Jon Lieber)
22. Marlins (from Giants for Type A Armando Benitez)
23. Red Sox (from Angels for Type A Orlando Cabrera)
26. Red Sox (from Dodgers for Type A Derek Lowe)

28. Cardinals (from Red Sox for Type A Edgar Renteria)
29. Marlins (from Yankees for Type A Carl Pavano)

Supplemental First Round
31. Diamondbacks (for Type A Richie Sexson)
32. Rockies (for Type A Vinny Castilla)
33. Indians (for Type A Omar Vizquel)
34. Marlins (for Benitez)
35. Padres (for Type A David Wells)
36. Athletics (for Type A Damian Miller)
37. Angels (for Type A Troy Percival)
38. Astros (for Type A Carlos Beltran)

39. Twins (for Type A Corey Koskie)
40. Dodgers (for Type A Adrian Beltre)
41. Braves (for Type A Jaret Wright)
42. Red Sox (for Type A Pedro Martinez)
43. Cardinals (for Renteria)
44. Marlins (for Pavano)
45. Red Sox (for Cabrera)
46. Cardinals (for Type A Mike Matheny)
47. Red Sox (for Lowe)

48. Devil Rays (for failure to sign Jeff Niemann*)
49. Orioles (for failure to sign Wade Townsend)
50. Angels (for failure to sign Jered Weaver*)
51. Diamondbacks (for failure to sign Stephen Drew*)
(*First-round pick still eligible to sign with club.)

Second Round
54. Dodgers (from Mariners for Beltre)
55. Rockies (from Nationals for Castilla)
56. Athletics (from Brewers for Miller)
57. Twins (from Blue Jays for Koskie)
60. Red Sox (from Mets for Martinez)
61. Angels (from Tigers for Percival)
66. Yankees (from White Sox for Type B Orlando Hernandez)
73. Cardinals (from Giants for Matheny)
79. Padres (from Red Sox for Wells)
80. Braves (from Yankees for Wright)

Supplemental Second Round
82. Marlins (for Type C Mike Redmond, signed with Twins)
83. Twins (for Type C Henry Blanco, signed with Cubs)

Third Round
86. Diamondbacks (from Mariners for Sexson)
87. Twins (from Nationals for Type B Cristian Guzman)
92. Astros (from Mets for Beltran)

105. Indians (from Giants for Vizquel)
111. Cubs (from Red Sox for Type B Matt Clement)

    What are the A's going to do with all these catchers, especially after adding Daric Barton? Didn't they have enough first-round catchers already? Where will John Baker, Barton, Jeremy Brown, Jed Morris, Landon Powell, John Suomi and Kurt Suzuki all go this season?

    Sean Martin
    Fullerton, Calif.

    With Daric Barton heading over to Oakland in the Mark Mulder deal, it seems general manager Billy Beane and the A's are cornering the market on the tools of ignorance. How do you project their young catchers and do you see any position changes in the near future?

    Joe Lederer
    Long Beach

Barton is definitely the top prospect in that group, though his ability to catch is very suspect and he likely will see a fair amount of time at first base or left field in 2005. Oakland's catcher of the future probably will come down to a pair of 2004 draft picks, first-rounder Powell and second-rounder Suzuki.

Suzuki (of national champion Cal State Fullerton) and Powell (of third-place South Carolina) were the catchers on our first and second All-America teams last year, but other than that they don't share a whole lot in common. Suzuki is a line-drive hitter with firm command of the strike zone, and he's more agile behind the plate. Powell is more about strength, both in terms of power at the plate and in his right arm.

After those three, Oakland's catching prospects rank in this order: Baker, Brown, Raul Padron, David Castillo and Morris. I'm not sold on the defensive ability of Baker and Brown either, seeing them more as part-time catcher/first base/DH types.

That group doesn't include Suomi, who had a breakthrough 2004 but sustained a catastrophic knee injury in a collision during the high Class A California League playoffs. The operating surgeon said he'd never seen a baseball injury like it—Suomi tore three ligaments and the meniscus—and that it looked more like something that would have happened in car accident. He'll miss all of 2005.

Even with Suomi out, the A's will have to find places for seven catchers to play full-season ball this year. My best guess has Baker and Brown sharing time at Triple-A Sacramento; Castillo skipping a level and going to Double-A Midland, where he'll be joined by Morris; Powell handling the majority of the catching at high Class A Stockton while Barton dabbles behind the plate and explores other positions; and Suzuki starting at low Class A Kane County. Suzuki should be able to overmatch Midwest League pitchers pretty easily, and when he's ready to move up it should set off a chain reaction of promotions and demotions.

(For those of you who didn't recognize his name, Sean pitches in the Giants system after signing in 2003 as a 14th-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton, where he was a teammate of Suzuki's. He also keeps up with college baseball at Sean's College Baseball Page, where he has his own Top 25 and all-America teams for the 2005 season.)

    How does Yusmeiro Petit compare to Felix Hernandez in terms of upside? How far is Petit from the majors?

    Andrew Haynes
    Fresno

Petit is a good prospect coming off an exceptional season (12-6, 2.26, 200-41 K-BB in 139 IP), but his stuff isn't in the same category as Hernandez'. The best pitching prospect in the game, Hernandez has plus-plus pitches in his mid-90s fastball and his mid-80s curveball, and those who have seen his slider (which the Mariners haven't let him throw) say it's his best offering. For good measure, he also has a solid-to-plus changeup.

Scouts still aren't sure how Petit has dominated lower-level hitters as much as he has. His fastball has good velocity (89-93 mph) and movement but is a 55-60 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. His slider and changeup are solid-average and could become plus pitches. While Hernandez projects as a No. 1 starter, Petit realistically has a ceiling of a No. 3.

This year will be a big test for Petit, who figures to open in Double-A after making two starts there at the end of 2004. If he enjoys similar success in Double-A, it'll be that much easier to believe he's for real and probably will serve as a springboard for his major league debut by the end of the year.

    How come Luke Scott isn't considered a top candidate for an outfield position for the Astros? Carlos Beltran is gone, Craig Biggio should go to second base and Lance Berkman is injured. They have Jason Lane, but Scott has put up tremendous numbers through out his minor league career. What's the deal?

    Darren Heal
    Staten Island, N.Y.

In what's believed to be an Ask BA first, we have two former teammates asking questions. Heal played with Scott at Indian River (Fla.) CC and Oklahoma State, as well as at Falmouth in the Cape Cod League, where Scott won the home run title with 11 in 2000.

Cleveland's ninth-round pick in 2001, Scott didn't make his pro debut until the following year because he required Tommy John surgery on his right (throwing) elbow. A byproduct of the Jeriome Robertson-Willy Taveras trade last March, Scott was 25 at the time and ready for at least Double-A. But because he joined the Astros late in spring training after they had most of their minor league rosters set, Scott started 2004 in high Class A. When he was promoted to Double-A at midseason, he responded with a vengeance, batting .298/.401/.654 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs in 63 games.

The Astros liked Scott enough to add him to their 40-man roster, but he's not going to contend for a starting job in spring training. Their top prospect, Chris Burke, is ready to take over at second base, which will keep Biggio in the outfield. Lane will get a long-overdue chance to play regularly, and while that still leaves one spot open, Houston is expected to pursue some veterans (perhaps Jeromy Burnitz) to fill that hole.

If Scott keeps mashing in Triple-A, he could get an opportunity later in the season. The Astros are short on lefthanded power, and that's his best tool. They love his makeup but want to see him do a better job of using the whole field and dealing with breaking pitches. His speed and arm are below average but not terrible, and he fits better in left field than in right.

Jan. 5, 2005

Be sure to check out all our coverage of the 2005 college baseball season, which starts later this month. No one covers the college game like Baseball America, and we kicked off our online content today with our Top 50 rankings, starting with Tulane at No. 1.

I'll dust off the draft-pick compensation chart again. Since the last time it ran on Dec. 22, the only change is that Type A Odalis Perez has re-signed with the Dodgers.

Carlos Beltran may be on the verge of signing with the Mets, which would give the Astros two extra picks, No. 37 in the supplemental first round and No. 92 from New York in the third round. The Mets pick in the top half of the first round (No. 9), so that choice is protected from compensation, and their second-round selection would still go to the Red Sox because Pedro Martinez (94.444) has a higher Elias rating than Beltran (91.011).

First Round
17. Yankees (from Phillies for Type B Jon Lieber)
22. Marlins (from Giants for Type A Armando Benitez)
23. Red Sox (from Angels for Type A Orlando Cabrera)
28. Cardinals (from Red Sox for Type A Edgar Renteria)
29. Marlins (from Yankees for Type A Carl Pavano)

Supplemental First Round
31. Diamondbacks (for Type A Richie Sexson)
32. Rockies (for Type A Vinny Castilla)
33. Indians (for Type A Omar Vizquel)
34. Marlins (for Benitez)
35. Padres (for Type A David Wells)
36. Athletics (for Type A Damian Miller)
37. Angels (for Type A Troy Percival)
38. Twins (for Type A Corey Koskie)
39. Dodgers (for Type A Adrian Beltre)
40. Braves (for Type A Jaret Wright)
41. Red Sox (for Type A Pedro Martinez)
42. Cardinals (for Renteria)
43. Marlins (for Pavano)
44. Red Sox (for Cabrera)
45. Cardinals (for Type A Mike Matheny)
46. Mets (for failure to sign Philip Humber*)
47. Devil Rays (for failure to sign Jeff Niemann*)
48. Orioles (for failure to sign Wade Townsend)
49. Angels (for failure to sign Jered Weaver*)
50. Diamondbacks (for failure to sign Stephen Drew*)
(*First-round pick still eligible to sign with club.)

Second Round
53. Dodgers (from Mariners for Beltre)
54. Rockies (from Nationals for Castilla)
55. Athletics (from Brewers for Miller)
56. Twins (from Blue Jays for Koskie)
59. Red Sox (from Mets for Martinez)
60. Angels (from Tigers for Percival)
65. Yankees (from White Sox for Type B Orlando Hernandez)
72. Cardinals (from Giants for Matheny)
78. Padres (from Red Sox for Wells)
79. Braves (from Yankees for Wright)

Supplemental Second Round
81. Marlins (for Type C Mike Redmond, signed with Twins)
82. Twins (for Type C Henry Blanco, signed with Cubs)

Third Round
85. Diamondbacks (from Mariners for Sexson)
86. Twins (from Nationals for Type B Cristian Guzman)
104. Indians (from Giants for Vizquel)
110. Cubs (from Red Sox for Type B Matt Clement)

Remaining free agents requiring compensation if they switch teams:

Type A: Carlos Beltran (Hou), Derek Lowe (Bos).
Type B: Brent Mayne (LA), Gregg Zaun (Tor).

    I have waited long enough to ask you this question. Since I have been a BA subscriber/reader, no pitcher has received more accolades than Mark Prior. How does 18-year-old Felix Hernandez stack up against a 21-year-old Prior as the best pitching prospect I have read about since Dwight "could have been the greatest" Gooden?

    Mike Marinaro
    Tampa

Hernandez at 18 (2004) and Prior at 21 (2002) were in their first full seasons of pro ball. Hernandez dominated a high Class A hitters' league and pitched well in Double-A, while Prior had no problems adapting to the majors after just nine minor league starts. Given that he was three years younger and just two levels behind Prior, you could argue that Hernandez was more advanced for his age.

There's not much to separate the two. Both had mid-90s fastballs, and if I had to pick one I'd take Prior's because his command is a little better. Both had above-average curveballs, with Hernandez' a little more devastating. Both showed signs of having plus changeups, though not yet on a consistent basis. For extra credit, Hernandez also had a slider that's reputed to be his best pitch—but the Mariners wouldn't let him throw it because he didn't really need it and they didn't want to reduce his risk of injury.

Both had exceptional command for young pitchers with electric stuff, with Prior rating a slight edge. Prior also had a slightly taller and stronger frame, as well as nearly picture-perfect mechanics. Because he was younger and less physically developed, Hernandez had more projection remaining. Both had strong makeups and work ethics.

Add it all up, and I'd take Prior over Hernandez because he had proven himself at a higher level (in part because he was three years older) and he's a slightly better bet to stay healthy. There's not much difference between them, however, and I'll set the over/under on their career Cy Young Awards at 3½.

    Now that the Randy Johnson trade has been approved by the Commissioner's Office, how would you reassess your stance on the overall value of the players the Yankees traded (assuming they work out a contract extension with Johnson)? They didn't give up the "potential middle-of-the-order slugger" (Eric Duncan). They did give up a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in Javier Vazquez, who had a decidedly deer-in-the-headlights look about him after June; "a potential starting catcher" (Dioner Navarro); and a "dime-a-dozen southpaw" (Brad Halsey). Given Vazquez' salary and the cash involved ($9 million), I can't imagine a single general manager who would have turned this deal down from New York's point of view, even assuming a two-year, $32 million extension for Johnson. How can this not be worth the risk?

    Harry Morgan
    Fairfax, Va.

I don't know why I'd have to reassess my stance. I mentioned in the Dec. 29 Ask BA that getting Johnson for any of the proposed packages definitely would upgrade the Yankees, and the trade, which should be finalized in the next two days, will do that. But getting Johnson is definitely another example of New York's short-sighted thinking.

Instead of signing 27-year-old Vladimir Guerrero last offseason, the Yankees opted for 35-year-old Gary Sheffield. To get the 41-year-old Johnson, they're parting with the 28-year-old Vazquez. Picking up Johnson may preclude them from making a serious run at 27-year-old Carlos Beltran. Beltran, Guerrero and Vazquez would have contributed to much more long-term success than Johnson and Sheffield will.

New York did sign a couple of big-ticket free agents under 30 this winter, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. But for $60.95 million, the Yankees have two pitchers who have combined for the grand total of three seasons in which they've won at least 10 games and had a record above .500. On paper right now, they have as good a chance as any team of winning the 2005 World Series. But they're not a lock by any means, and for a $200 million-plus payroll, they still have a roster with a shocking lack of depth if a serious injury strikes any position.

    Are the Diamondbacks doing the right thing in (potentially) dealing away Dioner Navarro? How would you rate Arizona's three young catchers—Koyie Hill, Navarro, Chris Snyder—in potential? The Diamondbacks seem to love Hill, but he may be the least enticing of the trio.

    Ryan Tippetts
    West Hills, Calif.

The Diamondbacks' trade of Navarro and righthander William Juarez to the Dodgers for Shawn Green and $8 million may fall apart because Arizona and Green aren't close on agreeing to a contract extension that would make Green want to waive his no-trade clause. But assuming the deal does happen, yes, it would make sense for the Diamondbacks to move Navarro.

Navarro isn't as advanced as either Hill (acquired from Los Angeles in the Steve Finley trade last July) or Snyder, a second-round pick in 2002. Navarro was unheralded before his breakout 2003 season, then regressed significantly last year. He stands out more defensively, and he might not be ever more than a decent hitter for average with little power.

I like Snyder more than Hill, because Snyder is a better defender and should provide a little more offense as well. If the Diamondbacks trade for Navarro and don't pass him on, he'll be third on their catching depth chart.

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