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By Jim Callis
June 29, 2005
After recovering from the draft with my annual vacation at the College World Series, it's time to shift my focus to the minors. We've got the Futures Game coming up in just 11 days, and our annual Best Tools coverage isn't far behind. Before you know it, we'll be putting together our annual league Top 20 Prospects list. Then it will be time to work on the 2006 Prospect Handbook, as we're shooting for an earlier release date this year.
I heard that Hong-Chih Kuo has come back from two Tommy John surgeries and has thrown 99 mph. If he stays healthy, when could he reach the majors?
Before Jack Zduriencik left the Dodgers to become the Brewers' scouting director, one of his last significant moves was to sign Kuo for $1.25 million. The first Taiwanese high schooler to sign with a U.S. team, he struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced in his first pro start in 2000. But that stint ended with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, and he had the operation performed again in 2003. Entering 2005, he had worked just 42 innings as a pro.
Kuo has spent most of this season in relief and has been dominating, as he always has been when healthy. In 28 innings between high Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville, he has posted a 1.93 ERA and 48-11 strikeout-walk ratio. Opponents have batted just .204 with two homers against him.
In Kuo's first Double-A outing, he threw one pitch at 99 mph and eight others at 98. He fanned six in two innings, including four in one frame. Kuo, 22, also has a promising breaking ball and changeup, and if they believe he could hold up, the Dodgers could be tempted to try to make him a starter again. But if they keep him in the bullpen and he maintains this success for another month or so, he may earn a big league bullpen spot. Few lefties have an arm like Kuo's, and specialist Kelly Wunsch is the only healthy southpaw on Los Angeles' big league roster.
Montero's defense never has been a problem, and he's a true catcher. Managers ranked him the best defensive catcher in the low Class A Midwest League last year, and he has thrown out 33 percent of basestealers this year. A native of Venezuela, he's fluent in both Spanish and English, so communication isn't a problem, and he has strong leadership skills.
The question with Montero always has been his bat. He hit .263/.330/.409 last year in his first taste of full-season ball and at 21 he was old for low Class A. While he's not young for high Class A and the California League favors hitters, the progress Montero has made this year is undeniable. He has 22 homers in 76 games after totaling just 19 in 267 games over his first four seasons, and he's also making more consistent contact. He leads the Cal League in runs (62), hits (110) and RBIs (78).
The Diamondbacks have legitimate catching prospects on all of their full-season clubs, and Montero suddenly has established himself as the best backstop in their system. He's also gaining recognition as one of the top catching prospects in baseball, as evidenced by his selection to the World team for the upcoming Futures Game.
Staten Island, N.Y.
Henn set a since-broken record for draft-and-follows when he signed for $1.701 million in 2001. At the time, he threw in the high 90s, but he blew out his elbow in his first pro summer and has lost some velocity since having Tommy John surgery. He still has a solid 90-92 mph fastball to go with an average curveball and changeup and a fringy curveball. Though he's no longer overpowering, his stuff is still good for a lefty, but I'd give the edge to Claussen because he has a better breaking ball.
To me, Henn is more of a middle reliever than a starter, especially on the demanding Yankees. He has consistently fallen behind hitters in three disastrous starts with New York, and some club officials question his mental toughness. He lacks a pitch that can put away hitters and he must work inside to be effective.
Cano has hit better as a rookie than I expected, though I still wonder if he's truly a long-term second baseman. He has been shaky defensively, and other clubs question his range and whether he'll fill out and get too thick to stay at second. Wang certainly has helped the Yankees by going 4-3, 4.26 in 11 games (10 starts), but I can't see him maintaining that success with such a low strikeout rate (3.4 per nine innings). Even with Cano and Wang contributing, that doesn't change the fact that New York has one of the game's thinnest farm systems.
June 15, 2005
I have a lot of business to get out of the way before we get to the questions today.
• I always run my annual mock draft column in the magazine this time of year. Here's a sneak preview:
• I always run my annual mock draft column in the magazine this time of year. Here's a sneak preview:
For posterity's sake, here are my first two drafts:
• Now that we have our complete College World Series field, it's time for a prediction. In the bracket that begins play Friday, Nebraska will beat Florida to go to the championship series. On the other side, Texas will take out Tulane to make it to the finals for the third time in four years. In the battle of Big 12 Conference teams, I'll take the Cornhuskers in three games.
• Speaking of the CWS, I'm taking my sons to Omaha and thus there will be no Ask BA next week. I'll be back June 29 to answer more of your questions.
Though Townsend was the eighth overall pick in both 2004 and 2005, the two situations were very different.
Last year, when the draft started, the Orioles were prepared to take Georgia high school shortstop Chris Nelson. But just before they made that selection, owner Peter Angelos demanded his club take a college pitcher who would sign for less than slot money, roughly $2.2 million.
Baltimore took Townsend without gauging his interest in signing a below-market deal, and initially offered $1.6 million. Townsend pitches with a lot of emotion, and he reacted with a lot of emotion to being lowballed. The Orioles eventually raised their proposal to $1.85 million, the amount they paid No. 7 overall pick Nick Markakis in 2003, but Townsend still thought he was being shortchanged. He blew up at club vice president Jim Beattie during a conference call. Once he returned to Rice to complete his history degree, Baltimore lost its negotiating rights to him.
This time around, Townsend had considerably less bargaining power. After sitting out for a year, he didn't want to do so again and might have harmed his career if he had. His workouts for teams this spring were uneven, and if the Devil Rays didn't take him at No. 8, he could have slid down into the supplemental first round.
While Townsend didn't come close to slot money, he would have gotten far less than $1.5 million had he gotten past Tampa Bay. And though he took less than the Orioles were willing to pay him, he had no desire to play for Baltimore. Athletes often say, "It's not about the money," and this is one case where that's actually true.
There's always reason for hope this close to draft day, because each team gets the guys at the top of its draft board when its picks roll around, and none of the players has had a chance to fail yet. OK, I've gotten my standard instant-draft-analysis caveat out of the way.
Maybin is a potential steal with the 10th overall pick in the draft. He'll need some time to develop, but he's a five-tool outfielder who compares very favorably to No. 1 choice Justin Upton. There was no red flag that caused Maybin to fall a little further than expected. He just didn't find a fit with the first nine clubs, most of whom were looking for someone who could reach the majors more quickly.
After Chadd left the Red Sox, who had an extreme college emphasis in 2003-04, I thought he might relish the opportunity to take more high school players. The Tigers didn't take a high schooler until tough sign David Adams in the 21st round and chose just 12 overall. But ultimately the value of the draft will be determined by the success of the players, and the demographics won't really matter. Detroit's draft has potential.
Detroit gave up its second-rounder to sign free agent Troy Percival. In the third round, the Tigers got a solid all-around catcher in Illinois' Chris Robinson. Their next three picks are all guys who have very high ceilings for their rounds.
Texas A&M righthander Kevin Whelan (fourth round) is a converted catcher who's just learning to harness a mid-90s fastball and two dastardly versions of a splitter. Arizona State first baseman Jeff Larish (fifth) once was projected as the best hitter in the 2004 draft class, and while he has slipped there's still some hitting talent in there. Outfielder Clete Thomas (sixth) never played up to his tools at Auburn, but he has considerable tools.
Calling up Fielder to DH for a week shouldn't hurt the Brewers financially in any way. September callup time counts the same as any other service time on a major league roster or disabled list, but even if he comes back up then, Milwaukee still isn't risking anything.
Let's assume Fielder logs a couple of weeks with the Brewers this summer and returns to them on Sept. 1. That would give him about 45 days of service time. A major league season lasts for 182 days, so Fielder would have just one-fourth of a full year of service time. That wouldn't be enough to trigger arbitration or free agency any earlier than it would, assuming he's on the Opening Day roster next year as expected.
A player with three or more years of service time can file for salary arbitration. There's also a provision that allows for a player with two-plus years to qualify, as long as he accumulated at least 86 days in the majors in the previous season and ranks among the top 17 percent in service time among players with between two and three years of service. It would be virtually impossible for Fielder to qualify for "super-two" arbitration rights with 2.25 years of service time after the 2007 season.
Free agency is more cut and dried. A player needs six full years of service time to become a free agent, with no exceptions. Even if Fielder were to spend the rest of this season with the Brewers, the earliest he could become a free agent would be after the 2011 season.
I don't see any harm in giving Fielder, who went 0-for-4 in his debut on Monday against Tampa Bay, a taste of the majors. He's a big part of the franchise's future, and letting him get his first look at the big leagues with no pressure only can help him. Though he's just 21, with a .253/.366/.507 line and 15 homers in 64 Triple-A games, he's nearly ready to play regularly for the Brewers.
June 10, 2005
Six first-round picks already have signed, with the highest being Virginia third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to the Nationals at No. 4 for $2.975 million. The other five: Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (No. 7, Rockies, $2.3 million), Utah high school lefthander Mark Pawelek (No. 20, Cubs, $1.75 million), Texas A&M shortstop Cliff Pennington (No. 21, Athletics, $1.45 million), North Carolina State righthander Joey Devine (No. 27, Braves, $1.3 million) and Alabama prep outfielder Colby Rasmus (No. 28, Cardinals, $1 million).
The Orioles didn't overdraft Reimold, a Bowling Green State outfielder who was left off our Top 200 because of bad timing more than anything else. He homered 12 times in his first 28 games this spring, establishing himself as a solid third- to fifth-rounder. But when area scouts called crosscheckers and scouting directors in to see him, Reimold apparently caught draftitis and tried to hit every pitch out of the park. He hit just two homers in a 14-game stretch, the top-level scouts weren't impressed and when we completed our Top 200 in mid-May, Reimold didn't belong.
Shipping the Top 200 in our Draft Preview to our printer coincided with Reimold snapping out of his funk. He closed the season by hitting .480 with six homers in his final eight games, bringing his season totals to .360-20-62. He can do more than just punish pitchers, running well for his size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and showing solid tools across the board.
In the weekend before the draft, as we were trying to project the first round, we heard Reimold mentioned as a possible supplemental first-rounder for a couple of clubs. Had we redone the Top 200 at this point, he would have ranked in the 75-125 range.
This close to the draft, I always include the caveat that it's way too early to know how good any of these draft classes are, but Jordan's first effort looks fine. He did a nice job of blending college and high school players, hitters and pitchers. Virginia high school catcher Brandon Snyder, the 13th overall pick, is very athletic and advanced offensively, and several teams behind Baltimore wanted him in the first round. Cal Poly's Garrett Olson (supplemental first round) is a polished lefthander; Baltimore prep righty Brandon Erbe (third) has a mid-90s fastball; Georgia high school outfielder Kieron Pope (fourth) is raw but has power potential and outstanding makeup; and Biola (Calif.) righthander Reid Hamblet (fifth) was one of the top small-college prospects.
There are more than a few misperceptions about "Moneyball," both from those who love and those who hate the book. (Call me conflicted: I like a lot of the book, but parts of it drive me nuts.) One is that it's a rigid blueprint on how to build a team, when it's more about exploring market inefficiencies. Just because Oakland believes on-base percentage and college draft picks to be good value purchases in 2002 doesn't mean that necessarily holds true today.
Another is that the Athletics discovered some revolutionary secret about the draft, that college players are much better and much safer than high school players. That might have been the case in the 1970s and 1980s, but it hasn't been since and certainly isn't true today. When I did a study three years ago that showed there was no significant long-term difference between collegians and high schoolers, it was met with skepticism in some quarters because Baseball America is supposed to love scouts and exclude or not understand statistics. An analyst for one team told me I was biased against college players. But Baseball Prospectus, perceived to be at the other end of the tools vs. stats spectrum, just did research of its own and came to the same conclusion.
Looking back, the 2002 "Moneyball" draft wasn't very special. With seven first-round picks, it looks like at best the A's will get one solid regular (Nick Swisher), one No. 3-5 starter (Joe Blanton) and one marginal regular (the since-traded Mark Teahen). There isn't a whole lot of hope for the rest of the crop. According to "Moneyball", Oakland's top 20 preference list included eight college stat darlings who weren't consensus first-five-rounders: pitcher Steve Obenchain and position players Jeremy Brown, Steve Stanley, John Baker, Mark Kiger, Brian Stavisky, Shaun Larkin and Brant Colamarino. The A's selected all but Larkin and may not get more than a couple of reserve first base/DH types to show for it.
Billy Beane is one of the game's best general managers, but I find it amusing that there's a perception that because the A's took five high schoolers in the first seven rounds this year, it must be because they're now a better value. After all, they spent a total of just two picks on prepsters in the first 18 rounds of the last three drafts (both in 2004). I'm not trying to pick on Dave here, because this same analysis permeates the current blogosphere. But it is possible, isn't it, that perhaps Oakland overvalued college players to the exclusion of high school players in the past?
The A's put five players on our 2005 Top 100 Prospects list, but just two of them were draft picks under the club's "Moneyball" philosophy: Swisher and Huston Street. Oakland had 14 first-round choices from 2002-04, yet it hasn't dominated the draft. Their long-term rate of return, particularly once you weight it for all of those extra picks, won't distinguish itself from that of other clubs. The A's are thin in terms of pitching prospects. When their early choices came up this year, high school arms were at the top of their draft board a few times andgasp!they took them.
With teams loading up on college players in the draftjust 32 percent of players taken in the first 10 rounds came from high schoolsprepsters are going to be undervalued (if you accept the premise that there's little difference in the long run). In a typical draft, there are roughly 25 good players and another 25 pretty useful players, and after that it's mostly fringe major leaguers. It just doesn't make sense to exclude the source of roughly half those valuable draftees for purely demographic reasons.
One last thing: After taking five high schoolers in the first seven rounds, the A's drafted six more in the next 33. Their percentage of four-year college players drafted (68 percent) was still the highest in the draft.
Let's break down the rest of Houston's picks in the first five rounds. Supplemental first-rounder Eli Iorg, a Tennessee outfielder, is the son of former big leaguer Garth Iorg. He's got a very interesting mix of power and speed, and he made great strides this year with the Volunteers. Florida high school catcher Ralph Henriquez (second round) also has a baseball connection, as his father Ralph (his high school coach as well) is a roving catching instructor for the Braves. Henriquez has raw power and catch-and-throw potential, though he'll need some time to develop.
Tulane's Tommy Manzella (third) was one of the best pure shortstops in the draft, and he's somewhat reminiscent of his Green Wave predecessor Tony Giarratano, who just came up to the majors with the Tigers. High school righthander Josh Lindblom (also third) was the best prospect in Indiana. He's already 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, and he threw consistently in the 90s all spring.
Area scouts thought Josh Flores was crazy to turn down a six-figure offer from the Braves as an Illinois high schooler in 2004, but after a year at Triton (Ill.) JC he'll come out ahead now that he has gone in the fourth round. Flores, who will move from shortstop to center field, has speed and some pop. Billy Hart (fifth) was a backup quarterback on Southern California's consecutive national championship football teams, and he's also a third baseman with a projectable bat.
June 1, 2005
The Diamondbacks and Angels are receiving kudos from other clubs for the way they handled the Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew negotiations with agent Scott Boras. Rather than get caught bidding against themselves in a desperate attempt to avoid losing their first-round picks as the May 30 midnight ET deadline approached, Arizona and Los Angeles held firm to offers that had been on the tables for months. In the end, Drew and Weaver decided to accept those offers rather than take their chances in the 2005 draft.
But realize that Boras and his clients didn't exactly lose out in these battles. Yes, they could have concluded their negotiations much earlier and gotten their careers underway. It's also possible that they've delayed their major league free agency and cost themselves big league salary down the road.
Nevertheless, Weaver got the largest up-front bonus in the 2004 draft and the seventh-largest in draft history at $4 million. Drew signed a major league contract that guarantees him $5.5 millionthe largest deal in the 2004 draft and the eighth-largest in draft history. With easily attainable incentives, his pact could reach $7.5 million.
Boras didn't get Mark Prior money ($10.5 million) for Weaver or Mark Teixeira cash ($9.5 million) for Drew, but he didn't get smoked either.
Three years ago, B.J. Upton occupied the No. 1 spot on our list of prospects for the 2002 draft, just as Justin Upton tops our Top 200 list for the 2005 draft. Justin has been hyped for almost as long as B.J., emerging as a top candidate for the 2005 draft when he was a sophomore in high school.
As you might suspect, the brothers were very similar coming out of high school. Both were listed at 6-foot-2, with Justin outweighing B.J. 187 to 170 pounds. Justin is a little better prospect than B.J. was, but we're talking about the slightest of edges. Both impressed scouts with their athleticism and top-of-the-line arm strength, but Justin is maybe a step quicker.
The biggest difference is that there were some very minor concerns about how much power B.J. would have, because he was more wiry than strong. Obviously, that's not a worry at this point, and last year he became the first teenager to homer in the majors since Aramis Ramirez and Adrian Beltre in 1998. Justin is more advanced at the plate than B.J. was, and less projection is required with his power.
Though B.J. has struggled with his defense as a pro, particularly his throwing and footwork, there wasn't any talk of that in 2002. Justin has had similar difficulties in high school, and they've been discussed at length this spring. Many clubs would shift him immediately to center field, where one scouting director says Justin could blossom into a big league all-star within two years. B.J. may have to move as well, though the Devil Rays have kept him at shortstop for now.
B.J. went second overall to the Devil Rays three years ago, and Justin is the favorite to go No. 1 to the Diamondbacks next Tuesday. They're in line to become the highest drafted brothers in draft history, passing Dmitri (No. 4 to the Cardinals in 1991) and Delmon (No. 1 to the Rays in 2003) Young.
East Chicago, Ind.
We've heard Townsend's name mentioned a lot at No. 8. He had a strong workout in Florida last week, and the clubs blame the Orioles more than him for negotiations breaking down last year when Baltimore took him eighth overall. A lot of teams project Townsend as a closer because they think his intensity would fit best in that role, but he also has the stuff to start. In either case, he'd be a fit for the Devil Rays because they need pitching, he shouldn't require a lot of time in the minors and he should be a fairly easy sign.
It appears that Tampa Bay will go with a college player in the first round for the second straight year after taking Townsend's Rice rotationmate, Jeff Niemann, fourth overall a year ago. The other players mentioned most as Devil Rays candidates are Southern California catcher Jeff Clement and St. John's righthander Craig Hansen.
We'll have a last-minute updated mock first round on Monday, and we'll discuss all the possibilities for each of the first 30 picks.
Sanchez should get picked ahead of O'Sullivan, perhaps at the end of the first round but more likely as a supplemental first-rounder. A former Mission Bay teammate of Matt Bush, the No. 1 overall pick in 2004, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Sanchez would be the largest first-round pick ever. He doesn't offer much beyond his bat, but he may have more pure power than anyone in the draft. The Red Sox, who own six draft picks from No. 23 to No. 57, have a lot of interest in Sanchez.
O'Sullivan is harder to forecast. He entered 2005 as the top high school pitching prospect available, but has had a largely disappointing spring. His velocity dropped into the high 80s, his curveball lost some crispness and his mechanics weren't as smooth as in the past. He has bounced back some as the draft approached, but if a team takes him as high as the supplemental first round, it will be doing so more on faith than on current performance. O'Sullivan, who has committed to San Diego State, could be a tough sign if he drops out of the first couple of rounds.