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By Jim Callis

March 30, 2005

If the 900 scouting reports in the 2005 Prospect Handbook aren't enough for you, then check out The 31st Team. It's our annual presentation of the players who just missed making the book, usually because their clubs acquired prospects who pushed them out. This year's edition includes 37 prospects.

    I saw that major league Rule 5 pick Ryan Rowland-Smith was returned by the Twins to the Mariners on Saturday. Which Rule 5 picks can be expected to make their new team's Opening Day roster?

    Doug Cartwright
    Madison, Wis.

Thus far, three players have had their Rule 5 status officially resolved. In addition to Rowland-Smith, the Athletics sent lefthander Tyler Johnson back to the Cardinals. The Nationals traded lefty Aaron Wideman to the Blue Jays for the rights to outfielder Tyrell Godwin, allowing Washington to send him to the minors.

Any player taken in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft must be kept on his team's big league roster all season. If the club wants to send him to the minors, it must place him on waivers. If he clears waivers, he then must be offered back to his original club for half the $50,000 draft price. A team can place a Rule 5 pick on the disabled list, but he must spend 90 days on the active roster before he can be demoted without being exposed to waivers.

Here's a list of all the major league Rule 5 picks from September, along with their status:

Major League Rule 5 Picks
Player, PosNew ClubOld ClubStatus
Angel Garcia, rhp*TBMin 
Andy Sisco, lhpKCChC 
Tyrell Godwin, ofWasTortraded to Was
Marcos Carvajal, rhp*ColLA 
Matt Merricks, lhpColLA 
Luke Hagerty, lhp*FlaChC 
Shane Victorino, ofPhiLA 
Tyler Johnson, lhpOakStLreturned to StL
Ryan Rowland-Smith, lhpMinSeareturned to Sea
D.J. Houlton, rhpLAHou 
Adam Stern, ofBosAtl 
Tony Blanco, of/1bWasCin 
*Acquired from different selecting club.

Garcia, Merricks, Hagerty and Victorino all have been placed on waivers, which means they probably aren't going to stick with their current teams.

Sisco's stuff has rebounded this spring, and he should find a spot with the Royals. The Rockies are expected to try to hold onto Carvajal. The Dodgers are talking about opening the season with 12 pitchers to make room for Houlton. Blanco also has performed well, and the Nationals likely will keep him. Washington general manager Jim Bowden traded for Blanco when he was running the Reds.

Stern is expected to be out until at least mid-April with a fracture in his right thumb. The Red Sox will put him on the disabled list and can send him to the minors on a rehab assignment before they have to figure out what to do with him.

    Baseball America ranked Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett ninth on the Top 20 Rookies list but left him off the Top 100 Prospects list. I'm trying to reconcile this apparent difference in value for the purposes of my fantasy league. Is Bartlett not a top prospect? How does he compare to the shortstops on the Top 100?

    Rich Cameron
    Tulsa

There's really no difference in value to reconcile. Those lists measure two entirely differently things. The rookie rankings measure a player's talent, but in the context of his opportunity for playing time and success this year. The Top 100 takes a much longer-term view, reflecting each player's career value.

Bartlett has hit well in the upper minors and should play regularly for Minnesota, a combination that led to his placement on the rookie list. I like him as a prospect, and he did factor into our Top 100 discussion, but I see him more as a steady player than as a difference-maker. He's a contact hitter with some gap power, and he gets the job done as a baserunner and defender but isn't a standout in either regard. Bartlett is a safer bet to have a decent career than some of the players on the Top 100, but he's far less likely to become a star.

At 25, Bartlett is older than any of the 10 shortstops on the Top 100. Far older, in fact. The next-oldest is Toronto's Aaron Hill at 23, and the average age of that group is 21. All of those shortstops have significantly more room for improvement than Bartlett. The most similar player is Hill, who has more pop and is maybe a tick slower.

    Do you think the Omar Minaya/Pedro Martinez combination will give the Mets a substantial edge in signing amateur free agents from the Dominican Republic? Is landing such talent more a matter of finding the prospects, or persuading players that everyone knows about to sign? I note that the Top 100 Prospects list includes more Dominicans than players from all other foreign nations combined. Martinez might be worth the dollars on that basis alone. The presence of a large Dominican population residing in New York also has to help.

    Robert Wagner
    Alameda, Calif.

An edge? Perhaps. A substantial edge? I don't see it.

The Mets have done more to boost their efforts in the Dominican by moving into a new complex at San Cristobal two years ago and by hiring Rafael Perez as their director of international player development. Perez, who previously ran Dominican operations for Major League Baseball, has extensive connections on the worldwide market. That will help the Mets find players, and they certainly have the money to sign the most talented.

Both factors are important. Reds international scouting director Johnny Almaraz says Miguel Cabrera was the most talented 16-year-old he's ever seen, but Cincinnati didn't have the cash to close a deal.

Martinez may increase the Mets' visibility in the Dominican, but not more than the new complex or Perez. If New York had an inferior complex and/or was trying to sign Dominicans for below market value, Martinez' presence wouldn't mean much.

March 23, 2005

Good news for Baseball America book lovers! The 2005 Directory and 2005 Super Register are back from the printer, so if you ordered them directly from us, you should receive them any day now.

    Any chance of Pirates righthander John VanBenschoten DHing this year in Triple-A? If he has a chance to be a National League starter for the next 5-10 years, then a year of DHing (for a guy who once led the NCAA in homers) could be a good thing, right? Working out with the team could help keep him in shape during his year long rehab from shoulder surgery.

    Phil Case
    Minneapolis

The risks of DHing VanBenschoten in Triple-A outweigh the rewards. While he did lead all college players with 31 homers in 2001 and most teams saw him as a first-round talent as an outfielder, the Pirates envisioned him becoming a solid starting pitcher. The only concern they have right now is getting him back to full health after he had season-ending surgery to repair a slightly torn labrum and remove a cyst from his shoulder in January.

True, VanBenschoten could hone his hitting skills and stay in shape as a DH. But he also could risk further injury and delay his recovery, both while swinging a bat or in a possible collision or awkward slide on the bases. VanBenschoten won't return to the diamond before instructional league.

In case you were wondering about how VanBenschoten has performed at the plate as a pro, he has hit .252/.320/.351 with one homer in 111 minor league at-bats. He went 1-for-8 in the majors, with his lone hit a homer off Casey Fossum.

    It seems many teams try to emulate the Twins, including looking for the next Johan Santana in the major league Rule 5 draft. Did Minnesota help make this a reality by exposing and losing righthander Angel Garcia in last December's Rule 5 draft? As a Twins fan I know little about him other than he's tall, 21 and had Tommy John surgery. Could you break down his stuff and give an opinion on his long-term potential?

    Gregg Patnode
    Woodbury, Minn.

Garcia has some upside, but I wouldn't rue the loss of Garcia too much. The Twins have so much talent that there wasn't room on the 40-man roster to protect everyone, and he has yet to pitch above low Class A or work more than 53 innings in a season.

Garcia, 21, was a fourth-round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2001. He blew out his elbow in 2003, necessitating Tommy John surgery. He pitched just 24 innings last season, but attracted Rule 5 interest after pitching at 90-93 mph and touching 94-95 in the Puerto Rican League this winter.

His changeup is an average pitch, but he still has work to do on his command and breaking ball, so he's not really anywhere close to being ready for the majors. The Devil Rays should be able to keep him on their active roster after paying the Diamondbacks $150,000 to acquire Garcia for them with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft. But the odds of him becoming the next Santana are remote at this point.

    I saw recently where the Rockies plan to infuse youth into their 2005 lineup. I was checking stats and noticed that J.D. Closser hit .319 and got on base at a .364 clip during his big league callup last year. Impressive stats regardless of position, but even more so considering he's a catcher. What are some reasonable expectations for Closser statistically this year and down the road? Where does he project to hit at in the lineup and will he hit away from Coors?

    Jay Kohout
    Mobile, Ala.

Colorado is planning on playing a bunch of youngsters regularly this year. In addition to Closser, they're also planning on starting third baseman Garrett Atkins and shortstop Clint Barmes, two more rookies, and platooning another, Brad Hawpe, in right field. Second-year players will man both second base (Aaron Miles) and left field (Matt Holliday).

They probably won't turn around the Rockies, however, because while they're all decent prospects they're not really difference-makers. Sure, thanks to Coors Field, they may all put up good numbers for fantasy-league purposes, but the real position-player cream in Colorado's crop is still a couple more years away: third baseman Ian Stewart, shortstop Chris Nelson, third baseman Jeff Baker and outfielder Seth Smith.

Getting back to Closser, he spent most of last year at Triple-A Colorado Springs (another high-altitude environment) and hit .299/.384/.440 with seven homers and 54 RBIs in 83 games. Tools-wise, he has decent power from both sides of the plate, draws his share of walks and doesn't strike out excessively. His arm his solid but his mechanics aren't, so he still needs work at combating the running game, and he's more of an offensive catcher than a defensive specialist.

Closser will bat toward the bottom of Colorado's lineup this year. In a normal park, I could see him becoming a .270 hitter with 10-15 homers. Helped by Coors Field, those numbers could translate to .295 with 12-18 longballs.

March 16, 2005

The top of our College Top 25 is looking an awful lot like the Final Four at last year's College World Series. No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Cal State Fullerton played for the national title, with the Titans winning in a two-game sweep, while No. 4 South Carolina was a semifinalist. Georgia, the other semifinalist, is at No. 21 after a 10-5 start.

    Brian Dopirak went from No. 17 for the Cubs in your 2004 Prospect Handbook to No. 1 in your 2005 rankings. Is that the biggest jump for a player ranked the previous year to No. 1 in the same organization the next? I thought this might be a good question considering the recent release of the 2005 Prospect Handbook.

    Nate Rackley
    Harrisburg, Pa.

This would be a good question even if it didn't give us a chance to plug the new Prospect Handbook. If you ordered it from us, you should have it by now. It also should be in bookstores in the very near future.

Dopirak did make a big jump within a deep Cubs system last year. Entering 2004, his power was obvious but he also had a career .249 average and 103 strikeouts in 92 pro games. After destroying the low Class A Midwest League with 39 homers while winning MVP honors, not to mention holding his own in the Arizona Fall League at age 20, he shot up to the top of our Cubs prospect rankings.

However, Dopirak didn't make the biggest leap to No. 1 on the current lists. Cardinals righthander Anthony Reyes went from No. 19 in 2004 to No. 1.

We began our Top 10 organization lists in 1983. In 1999 and 2000, we listed Prospects 11-15 for each organization in our issues. When we created the Prospect Handbook in 2001, we started going 30 deep. Since then, the only players who have vaulted higher than Reyes have been Athletics righthander Rich Harden (2002-03), Yankees catcher Dioner Navarro (2003-04) and White Sox outfielder Jeremy Reed (2003-04), all of whom rose from No. 21 to No. 1.

Here's a list of all players who have gone to No. 1 from outside the Top 10, since we began listing at least 15 prospects per organization.

Biggest Leaps To No. 1, 1999-2005
Player, Pos., TeamYear OneYear Two
Rich Harden, rhp, AthleticsNo. 21, 2002No. 1, 2003
Dioner Navarro, c, YankeesNo. 21, 2003No. 1, 2004
Jeremy Reed, of, White SoxNo. 21, 2003No. 1, 2004
Erik Bedard, lhp, OriolesNo. 19, 2002No. 1, 2003
Anthony Reyes, rhp, CardinalsNo. 19, 2004 No. 1, 2005
Ricardo Rodriguez, rhp, DodgersNo. 18, 2001No. 1, 2002
Brian Dopirak, 1b, CubsNo. 17, 2004No. 1, 2005
Brad Nelson, 1b/of, BrewersNo. 16, 2002No. 1, 2003
Jose Ortiz, 2b, AthleticsNR (Top 15), 2000No. 1, 2001
Jon Rauch, rhp, White SoxNR (Top 15), 2000No. 1, 2001
Roy Oswalt, rhp, AstrosNo. 15, 2000No. 1, 2001
Merkin Valdez, rhp, GiantsNo. 15, 2003No. 1, 2004
Zach Duke, lhp, PiratesNo. 15, 2004No. 1, 2005
Nick Neugebauer, rhp, BrewersNo. 14, 1999No. 1, 2000
Carlos Hernandez, lhp, AstrosNo. 14, 2001No. 1, 2002
Wilson Betemit, ss, BravesNo. 13, 2000No. 1, 2001
Bud Smith, lhp, CardinalsNo. 13, 2000No. 1, 2001
Jimmy Journell, rhp, CardinalsNo. 12, 2001No. 1, 2002
Donnie Bridges, rhp, ExposNo. 11, 1999No. 1, 2000
Joel Guzman, ss, DodgersNo. 11, 2004No. 1, 2005

    Does Mark Prior's injury open the door for Cubs pitching prospect Angel Guzman or Renyel Pinto, or are they still too far behind to make a push for the big league rotation yet?

    James P. Tate
    Guthrie, Okla.

The Cubs are downplaying the severity of Prior's elbow inflammation and Kerry Wood's shoulder bursitis. It remains to be seen how long Prior and Wood will be sidelined, but Chicago did underestimate the extent of several injuries a year ago. For instance, the Cubs initially anticipated that Prior's Achilles tendon problems wouldn't cause him to miss a start, and he didn't make his first big league appearance until June 4.

If Prior and Wood aren't ready to go by Opening Day, the Cubs probably will open the season with a rotation of Carlos Zambrano, Greg Maddux, Ryan Dempster, Glendon Rusch and Sergio Mitre. At this point, they'd want to see that Guzman is completely healthy and that Pinto can command the strike zone consistently before they'd commit a starting spot to them.

Guzman, who has the best stuff in the system, has pitched just 48 innings since having arthroscopic shoulder surgery in June 2003. He hasn't gotten much work in big league camp, giving up eight hits in 3 1/3 innings, and looks destined to open the season at Triple-A Iowa. Pinto led the Double-A Southern League in ERA (2.92) and strikeouts (179 in 142 innings) last year, but some scouts believe his pitches grade out better than he uses them. Visa issues delayed his arrival from Venezeula, so he was assigned to minor league camp and also should begin the season at Iowa.

    What are Aaron Hill's chances of making the Blue Jays this year? Will he stay at shortstop or switch to third or second base? Will he be a major leaguer for years?

    Jeff Lynch
    Visalia, Calif.

Hill is a half-year to a year away from playing regularly in Toronto. While he's the best position player in the system, he was just solid in Double-A last year (.280/.369/.411) and needs some time in Triple-A. Furthermore, Russ Adams is ready for major league duty, and he'll open the season at shortstop for the Blue Jays.

Because Hill has more arm strength, he's better suited than Adams to play shortstop in the long term. But Hill's range and quickness are average at best, and clubs usually want more than that out of their shortstop. Ideally, from a defensive standpoint, Adams would probably fit best at second base and Hill at third base.

If Hill moves to the hot corner, he'd have to show more power than the 11 homers he hit last year. He has the potential to produce as many as 15-20 per season.

March 9, 2005

Rick Ankiel has given up trying to come back from control problems and elbow surgery, and now will try to make it back to the majors as an outfielder. That would be a heartwarming story, but I can't see him being successful. Ankiel has hit .210/.258/.310 with two homers in 87 big league at-bats. That's very good for a pitcher, and he'd probably hit better if he was focused on it, but that's a far cry from what's acceptable for a major league outfielder.

Ankiel slugged .638 as a DH in the Appalachian League in 2001, but that was Rookie ball four years ago. He's now 25 and hasn't had regular at-bats since he played in high school in 1997. His situation reminds me of two-sport stars who have baseball talent but lose it because they didn't get enough repetitions. I don't think he'll be able to flick a switch and become productive at the plate.

    If Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew were under contract instead of holding out, where would they fit on the Top 100 Prospects list?

    Chris Barsh
    Huntington Beach, Calif.

    Where would Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew have ranked in the Top 100 had they signed? Does the BA braintrust still think they'll sign?

    Kiley McDaniel
    Odessa, Fla.

We rated Weaver the top overall prospect and Drew the top position prospect in the 2004 draft. They both fell to the middle of the first round because of doubts about their signability, which proved well-founded, considering that neither has signed a contract to this point.

It still amazes me that there's a groundswell of Internet opinion that because Weaver's statistics as a junior were very similar to Mark Prior's, then Weaver must be as good a prospect as Prior was. That belief ignores the fact that just because two pitchers have similar college statistics, it doesn't mean they'll have similar pro careers. College baseball is roughly equivalent to the short-season level in pro ball. You can crunch all the New York-Penn League and Northwest League numbers you want, and statistics alone aren't going to identify your future big leaguers at that level.

Weaver is a very good pitching prospect. But while he has shown great command of good stuff, Prior had shown great command of dominant stuff. Prior debuted at No. 2 on his first Top 100 list, while Weaver wouldn't rank quite that high.

On this year's Top 100, the highest-rated 2004 draftee is Devil Rays righthander Jeff Niemann, who checks in at No. 20. I prefer Niemann to Weaver because he has better stuff and also owns fine command, giving him a greater chance to dominate. The first pitcher on the list who arguably could rank behind Weaver would be Brewers righty Jose Capellan (No. 25)—if you assume that Capellan is going to wind up in the bullpen. You could make a case for Weaver against the next few pitchers on the list, but I'd wind up placing him between Athletics lefty Dan Meyer (No. 43) and Mets righty Yusmeiro Petit (No. 46).

I'd rank Drew higher on the Top 100 because I think he's a safer bet to star in the big leagues. He's got more of a track record than fellow 2004 first-round shortstop Chris Nelson (No. 26) and a lot more offensive upside than Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy (No. 28), so I'd put Drew just ahead of those two.

Incidentally, assistant managing editor John Manuel got this same question in our Top 100 chat. John would put Drew in the same spot I would and said he would rank Weaver in the mid-30s.

I've said all along that I expected it to take a while, but that both Weaver and Drew would sign. Now that the Angels have broken off talks with Weaver, it looks like he'll have to re-enter the 2005 draft. The only way I can see Weaver turning pro before then is if he reaches out to the Angels, which isn't standard operating procedure for a Scott Boras advisee. Now that former agent Jeff Moorad has been approved as a part-owner of the Diamondbacks, the team should reach a deal with Drew before the end of the month.

    Who did Tadahito Iguchi and Kendry Morales keep from the Top 100? Give us some near misses.

    Chad Carrier
    Shreveport, La.

    Who just missed the list? Joe Blanton? Denny Bautista? Blake DeWitt?

    Ted Nye
    Hamilton, Ont.

Even if we had a rule keeping older players and/or those with foreign major league experience off our prospect lists—something we have discussed because Japanese major leaguers aren't really true "prospects"—Morales still would have made the Top 100. He's just 21 and Cuban baseball isn't close to the same caliber as the Japanese majors.

To answer the question, here are the 10 players who just missed the cut (listed alphabetically): Royals righthander Denny Bautista, Marlins righty Yorman Bazardo, Athletics righty Joe Blanton, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, Athletics righty Jairo Garcia, Padres outfielder Freddy Guzman, Brewers outfielder Corey Hart, Brewers righty Ben Hendrickson, Twins lefty Francisco Liriano and Mariners shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo. Fine guesses, Ted.

As part of the Top 100 process, several BA editors put together our own Top 150 lists as a starting point. Players who made my Top 100 but not our consensus Top 100, in the order I like them: Cubs righty Billy Petrick, Cubs lefty Renyel Pinto, Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder, Athletics first baseman Dan Johnson, Padres catcher George Kottaras, Athletics second baseman Omar Quintanilla, Red Sox righty Anibal Sanchez and Nationals righty Clint Everts.

    With the NCAA's new Academic Progress Report formula to penalize programs who don't graduate their athletes, do you think this will ultimately influence the way that the top baseball programs recruit? It severely penalizes schools that have a number of players who go pro after their junior seasons. As a result, will teams shy away from recruiting high schoolers who are considered a lock to go in the draft in their junior year? Do you think this APR will have any other effects on the college game?

    Gary Reed
    Sarasota, Fla.

National writer Will Kimmey has reported on the APR issue as part of his college beat, so I turned this question over to him. Here's what Will thinks:

The biggest impact the APR will have is that teams might be a bit less likely to take players who are academic risks. There was no previous penalty for having a player flunk out other than the loss of his services. Now there's the possibility of losing that scholarship.

The NCAA waiver process should keep teams that lose a ton of draft picks in good shape. Someone from the NCAA had requested information on transfers from me, as they're trying to figure out just how rampant transfers are at the Division I level. I'm guessing that info will be used in processing these, shall we say, waiver claims. But basically teams that lose a ton of draft guys won't get popped if those kids and the others in the program are in good academic standing. That's the point of the legislation, to keep the academics on track, not to take scholarships.

March 2, 2005

If you've been keeping up with our unveiling of our Top 100 Prospects list this week, you don't have to see Thursday's final installment to surmise that the top two picks in the 2004 draft, Padres shortstop Matt Bush and righthander Justin Verlander, didn't make the cut.

How unusual is that? Let's take a look at where the preceding year's top two picks have ranked on our Top 100s, which began in 1990:

Top Two Draft Picks On Their First Top 100 Prospects List
DraftNo. 1 PickRankNo. 2 PickRank
1989Ben McDonald, rhp, Orioles2Tyler Houston, c, Braves92
1990Chipper Jones, ss, Braves49Tony Clark, 1b, TigersNot Ranked
1991Brien Taylor, lhp, Yankees1Mike Kelly, of, Braves19
1992Phil Nevin, 3b, Astros30Paul Shuey, rhp, Indians81
1993Alex Rodriguez, ss, Mariners6Darren Dreifort, rhp, Dodgers11
1994Paul Wilson, rhp, Mets16Ben Grieve, of, Athletics10
1995Darin Erstad, of, Angels4Ben Davis, c, Padres10
1996Kris Benson, rhp, Pirates8Travis Lee, 1b, Twins (signed by D'backs)5
1997Matt Anderson, rhp, Tigers24J.D. Drew, of, PhilliesDid Not Sign
1998Pat Burrell, 1b, Phillies19Mark Mulder, lhp, Athletics27
1999Josh Hamilton, of, Devil Rays13Josh Beckett, rhp, Marlins19
2000Adrian Gonzalez, 1b, Marlins89Adam Johnson, rhp, Twins41
2001Joe Mauer, c, Twins7Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs2
2002Bryan Bullington, rhp, Pirates52B.J. Upton, ss, Devil Rays21
2003Delmon Young, of, Devil Rays3Rickie Weeks, 2b, Brewers5
2004Matt Bush, ss, PadresNot RankedJustin Verlander, rhp, TigersNot Ranked

Not counting J.D. Drew, who didn't sign with the Phillies as the No. 2 pick in 1997, every player chosen first or second in the draft has made the subsequent Top 100 with one exception: Tony Clark, the No. 2 choice in 1990. Bush is the first No. 1 selection to miss the Top 100, and Adrian Gonzalez (No. 89 on the 2001 list) is the only other No. 1 not to make the top half of the list.

A year ago, Delmon Young (No. 3) and Rickie Weeks (No. 5) became our highest-ranked 1-2 draft tandem. They just edged out Joe Mauer (No. 7) and Mark Prior (No. 2) from the 2001 draft.

Incidentally, the 2005 Prospect Handbook is back from the printer. If you ordered it from Baseball America, you should have it very soon. It also will be available in bookstores in the near future.

    My question is specifically about Gavin Floyd, but I guess it applies to the question of age relative to league. I look at Floyd's numbers and I see a good but not great K/IP ratio, a good but not great K/BB ratio, and an above-average H/IP ratio. I realize he has been young for the leagues he has pitched in. But how does the age question translate to numbers? Is Floyd at 21 with a 6.7 K/9IP ratio at Double-A and Triple-A the same as another pitcher at 23 with a 9.0 ratio? Is the age question so important because the feeling is that a younger pitcher has more time to adjust? And if so, would Floyd benefit from a full year at Triple-A in 2005?

    David R. Mark
    Maplewood, N.J.

It's always difficult to evaluate pitching prospects who don't dominate as much as their stuff indicates they might. Floyd still has one of the best curveballs around, and a solid fastball that ranges from 89-94 mph. He doesn't throw quite as hard as he did in high school, where he was regularly clocked at 91-97 before going fourth overall in the 2001 draft. Pro ball is more rigorous than high school ball, of course, and it's not uncommon for pitchers to lose a tick or two off their fastball.

Despite his quality curveball, solid fastball and an average changeup, Floyd never has blown away minor league hitters. He has averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, a steady but not spectacular rate. At the same time, he always has been young for his leagues, breaking into pro ball at low Class A at age 19 and reaching the majors last year at age 21, and most important, succeeding at every step.

When we assemble our various prospect lists, we do look at a player's age relative to his league. We also look at his physical tools and track record of performance. I'd rather have a Gavin Floyd than a 22-year-old pitcher who's putting up big numbers against less polished low Class A hitters. At the same time, however, you don't want to give too much credit to a young player simply because he's holding his own. Go back and look at Luis Rivas' minor league career, and it was pretty unimpressive—just as his major league career has been.

Floyd's minor league career reminds me a lot of that of Brett Myers, who preceded him as the top pitching prospect in the Phillies system. Both pitchers averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, while Floyd averaged 11.3 baserunners to Myers' 11.5. But before that comment leads anyone to peg Floyd as a future underachiever, also consider the example of Ben Sheets. He had similar ratios (7.4 strikeouts and 11.7 baserunners per nine innings) in the minors and had a 4.42 ERA in his first years in the majors before taking a giant leap forward in 2004.

Is Floyd ready for the majors? I'd like to have seen more dominance before making that pronouncement, but he did pitch well in September for Philadelphia. He doesn't necessarily need a full year in Triple-A, but another month or two might help.

    I was reviewing BA's Top 20 Rookies list and was surprised to see Jose Capellan's name missing. If he makes the Brewers rotation out of spring training, then how couldn't he be included in this list? He would have a better shot at Rookie of the Year than most of those guys on the list.

    Jim Witmer
    Coatesville, Pa.

Believe me, we considered Capellan for our list, and he just missed making it. We ultimately left him off because of uncertainty as to how ready he is for the majors and what his role would be.

Though Capellan went 14-4, 2.32 with 152 strikeouts in 140 minor league innings last year, at times he's a one-pitch pitcher. That doesn't mean he won't continue to refine his curveball and changeup or that they won't become good pitches in times, but at this point neither is consistently reliable. His fastball, which can hit triple digits, is impressive, but he'll need more than that to succeed in the majors. He could split the year between Triple-A and Milwaukee, making it difficult to put up big rookie numbers. He's no lock for the big league rotation.

Additionally, there's a question as to what his role would be with the Brewers this year. If he doesn't have a well-rounded repertoire, it's hard to see him doing well as a major league starter. He could break into the majors as a setup man or swingman, and in that case it again would be hard to post eye-catching statistics.

    I can't recall hearing anything about Raul Valdez when he escaped Cuba. He completely dominated the young players in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League—not too surprising considering his age (is he really 26-27?)—and then did about the same thing this winter. Could he be for real? Good stuff or a trickster?

    Chuck Nealey
    Des Moines

I didn't hear anything about Valdez' defection, either, and I still don't know the details. Given that he led the Dominican Winter League in strikeouts in 2003, with 46 in 51 innings, and that his birthdate is listed at Nov. 27, 1977, he should have been pitching in Double-A last year. But the tighter visa limitations precluded him from pitching in the United States, so he wound up posting silly numbers in the Dominican Summer League: 7-2 with league bests in ERA (0.51) and whiffs (152, versus just eight walks, in 88 innings). He went back to the Dominican Winter League this offseason and excelled again, winning the ERA title (0.79) and pitcher-of-the-year award.

His stuff isn't as spectacular as his numbers, but his mix of pitches could make him difficult to hit in the majors. There's no agreement as to which is his best offering. His fastball doesn't light up radar guns at 83-88 mph, but it has a lot of movement. Some days, his curveball and changeup look like above-average pitches. He also helps himself with his ability to pinpoint his pitches.

The Cubs are looking for lefthanded relief help, and they invited Valdez to big league camp in hopes he might fill the bill. But he fractured his thumb when he was hit by a comebacker pitching in the Dominican and will miss spring training. He'll probably open the season in Double-A and could push for a big league spot later in the year.

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