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By Jim Callis

Oct. 27, 2005

As someone who expected the White Sox' bubble to burst once the postseason began, I have to give them credit. They won their last five regular-season games and then went on an 11-1 roll in the playoffs. They didn't dominate the Astros, though they did sweep them in four straight close games. Some will say that Chicago got a lot of breaks in the playoffs, but don't good teams take advantage of those breaks?

I still believe teams win with stars, and yet I look at the White Sox and don't see many stars. Paul Konerko, sure. Frank Thomas, when healthy, but he hasn't been healthy in a while. Is Mark Buehrle a star? He's very solid, but he's not a dominator.

While there may not be a lot of stars on the White Sox, there aren't many holes either. Eight of their nine regulars reached double figures in homers, and the ninth, Scott Podsednik, is disruptive on the bases. Konerko is the only below-average defender in the bunch. Their bench is versatile. Their rotation and bullpen have almost no weak links. General manager Kenny Williams and his crew did a fine job assembling such a club on a mid-level payroll, and manager Ozzie Guillen did a great job pressing all the right buttons.

    As a lifelong Cubs fan, I've learned to live with disappointment and look to the future with the minors. With that said, I'm not sure exactly what to think of Felix Pie. He strikes out at a clip comparable to Corey Patterson and is caught stealing way too much for a person with his speed. This doesn't seem like the answer at leadoff for the Cubs, now or in the future. Patterson was rushed through the minors and never learned how to make adjustments when he needed to. Now he has to learn how to make these adjustments just to remain a big leaguer. Personally, I think the Cubs should sign Johnny Damon and tell Pie he has a couple of more years of seasoning ahead of him. What do you think they should do with Pie?

    Ryan Kalasz
    Columbus, Ohio

There has been talk that the Cubs would have promoted Pie to play center field this season if a bone bruise in his right ankle hadn't brought his season to an end in mid-June. He also is mentioned among the club's center-field candidates for 2006. While Pie did start to tap into his raw power this year, I think it's too early to count on him helping in the major leagues.

Pie is a talented athlete, no question, and he hit .304/.349/.554 with 11 homers and 13 steals in 59 Double-A games this year at age 20. He's the organization's top prospect. But he still has a lot of rough edges to his game. He doesn't walk much, he's rough as a basestealer and he can take erratic routes in center field. Pie has the chance to be a very good player in time, with the key phrase of this sentence being "in time." He needs another season or two in the minors.

If they promote him now, the Cubs run the risk of sending the wrong message to Pie, just as they did to Patterson. When Patterson was coming up through the minors, his biggest weaknesses were his strike-zone discipline, his bunting ability and his performance against lefthanders. The Cubs kept saying that Patterson needed to work on those areas, but he kept putting up good overall numbers and they kept rushing him toward Wrigley Field. Patterson made it to the majors at age 21 in 2000 and was a regular by the end of 2001. Pitchers took advantage of Patterson and those same flaws in the majors because he never made adjustments, and now he's coming off a horrible .215/.254/.348 season.

    As a Phillies fan, I find myself always looking towards the future. The Phils have been lucky enough to bring Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and a few other players out of their minor league system in the last couple of years. We've seen the hype that surrounded Phillies pitching prospects Brett Myers, Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels in recent years. Is it possible that we might see a two-headed Phillies pitching prospect monster in the likes of the two Scotts, Mathieson and Mitchinson? They both seem to have pretty good stuff and despite the less than stellar ERAs this year, they both had impressive K-BB ratios.

    Jim Witmer
    Coatesville, Pa.

Shouldn't there be a rule that guys with similar names can't be in the same organization? As if it isn't already easy to confuse Mathieson and Mitchinson, they're both similarly built, both come from foreign countries and neither was highly touted when he signed. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Mathieson is a Canadian who was a 17th-round pick out of the University of British Columbia in 2002. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Mitchinson is an Australian who got a $10,000 bonus to sign in 2003. Both Mathieson and Mitchinson were born in 1984, too.

At this stage, Mathieson is a significantly better prospect than Mitchinson. Mathieson, who went 3-8, 4.14 with a 118-34 K-BB ratio in 122 innings at high Class A Clearwater, has a low-90s fastball that touches 95-96 mph. His slider is progressing nicely, and his changeup is solid. He's the organization's second-best pitching prospect behind only Hamels, but he's not a Top 100 Prospects-caliber guy yet.

Mitchinson, on the other hand, stalled in 2005 at short-season Batavia. He went 5-6, 5.35 with a 57-16 K-BB ratio in 71 innings. His stuff is just fringy at this point, as his 90-mph fastball didn't gain any velocity, and his curveball and changeup also stagnated. His best attribute is his ability to locate his pitches, but they currently aren't good enough to fool hitters, who know he's going to be around the zone.

    With all the second basemen the Mets have been using, why has Jeff Keppinger faded out of the picture? Even before his injury, he seemed surprisingly off the radar for the kind of year he was having. Has Anderson Hernandez bumped him from the top of the Mets' minor league depth chart, and what are the odds of them being on the big league team next year?

    Morgan Roddick
    Brooklyn

Keppinger likely would have gotten a shot in New York this year if he hadn't broken his left kneecap trying to turn a double play in mid-June. Big league second basemen Kaz Matsui and Miguel Cairo got hurt in the same week. But instead of getting that opportunity, Keppinger saw the opposite happen as Hernandez took over for him at Triple-A Norfolk and passed him on the organization depth chart.

Before he got hurt, Keppinger was doing what he does best: hit for average. He was batting .337/.377/.455 in 65 games. Nothing else about his game (power, on-base ability, speed, defense) stands out, so his ceiling is probably that of a line-drive hitting utilityman. He's already 24, two years older than the flashier Hernandez, who fits the more traditional middle-infield mold.

That said, and even with Hernandez coming off a career year of .315/.357/.421 with 35 steals between Double-A and Triple-A, I still don't totally believe in his bat. Hernandez looks like a utilityman to me as well. You may see Hernandez or Keppinger on the Mets in 2006, but I doubt it will be as a starter.

Oct. 21, 2005

I've received a few questions about our annual Draft Report Cards. Yes, we're doing our annual breakdown of each team's draft, and as a matter of fact, I just completed them for our latest issue. Subscribers should get that edition some time next week, which is also when we'll post them on the web.

I also graded my third annual mock draft, and that column will be available next week as well. Below are the players I chose and what it would have cost to sign them. The total cost for the 10 players I signed in the first 10 rounds was $3.435 million.

2005 Mock Draft (Picking 17th Each Round)
RoundPlayer, Pos, SchoolReal Life DraftBonus
1stLuke Hochevar, rhp, TennesseeLA, supp. 1stDid Not Sign
Supp. 1stMichael Bowden, rhp, HS/IllinoisBos, supp. 1st$950,000
2ndBryan Morris, rhp, HS/TennesseeTB, 3rd$1,300,000
3rdJordan Schafer, of, HS/FloridaAtl, 3rd$400,000
4thSeth Johnston, ss, TexasSD, 5th$120,000
5thAaron Cunningham, of, Everett (Wash.) CCCWS, 6th$165,000
6thJeremy Slayden, of, Georgia TechPhi, 8th$145,000
7thPaul Phillips, rhp, OaklandTor, 9th$110,000
8thDaniel McCutchen, rhp, OklahomaStL, 12th$100,000
9thMark Wagner, c, UC IrvineBos, 9th$90,000
10thMike Bell, 3b, Grayson County (Texas) CCMil, 15th$55,000
Note: Supplemental first-rounder was 35th overall choice.

I'm sticking with my pre-playoff prediction that the Astros will win it all. Their pitching is driving them as expected, and I think they'll take the White Sox out in six games.

    Is it true that the Orioles gave up a prospect in order to sign pitching coach Leo Mazzone away from the Braves? If so, who?

    Peter Duffy
    New York

Because Mazzone's contract with the Braves didn't expire until Nov. 15, the Orioles did send them some compensation. And Atlanta fans who believe in bloodlines should be excited.

The Braves received righthander Moises Hernandez, whose younger brother Felix is only the most exciting young pitcher to come along in years. Moises isn't nearly as highly regarded as Felix—Moises never has appeared in the Prospect Handbook, for instance—but he does have some talent.

Hernandez, 21, signed out of Venezuela in December 2001 and spent all of this season at short-season Aberdeen. In 11 games (seven starts), he went 0-4, 3.08. He had a 56-24 strikeout-walk ratio in 53 innings, and opponents hit .217 with two homers against him.

Hernandez' velocity rose this year, and his fastball now resides in the low 90s and occasionally touches 95 mph. He also has a slider and a changeup. He's not a top prospect, but he's intriguing and worth keeping an eye on.

    Red Sox supplemental first-rounder Jed Lowrie played mostly shortstop at short-season Lowell. Does he have the defensive tools to continue to play shortstop? A year after the Red Sox drafted Dustin Pedroia, they assigned him to Double-A to open the 2005 season and later promoted him to Triple-A. Is there much of a chance that Lowrie will be assigned to Double-A next spring?

    Douglas Young
    Portland, Maine

A second baseman at Stanford, Lowrie played 40 games at shortstop and 11 at second base at short-season Lowell, where he hit .328/.429/.448 and led the New York-Penn League in on-base percentage. The consensus before the draft was that he was an offensive second baseman, but the Red Sox planned all along to see what he could do at the more challenging position.

Lowrie's hands, which give him a quick bat, also are an asset on defense. He has the arm to play shortstop and surprised Boston with how well he took to the position. The biggest issue was his footwork, as he needed to improve his first step to both sides. The Red Sox will keep him at shortstop if possible as he moves up the ladder, though the system has a number of prospects at the position.

Pedroia also played well at shortstop in his 2004 pro debut, but he moved to second base this year because he opened the season on the same Portland club as Hanley Ramirez. Pedroia likely will remain at second base and contend for a big league job in 2006.

I don't think Lowrie will be placed on the same fast track. Pedroia played for two Class A teams before making the jump to Double-A, while Lowrie hasn't played above short-season ball. I think you'll see him open 2006 at high Class A Wilmington, where his double-play partner likely will be fellow 2005 draftee Jeff Natale, a 32nd-round second baseman who batted .368/.474/.557 in his pro debut (mostly at low Class A Greenville). If the Red Sox decide to promote shortstop Christian Lara, who batted .232.304/.299 at Greenville as a 19-year-old, then Lowrie would slide over to second base at Wilmington.

    Cubs fans perennially get teased by the potential of righthander Angel Guzman. He had another lost year again in 2005 but was assigned to the Arizona Fall League. How important is this opportunity for him? This seems like his make-or-break chance to show he still deserves his once-lofty prospect status.

    Kurt Volkman
    Chicago, Ill.

Two years ago, Guzman was the Cubs' top prospect. He probably would have come up at midseason had he not come down with shoulder problems. He had arthroscopic surgery to repair a small tear in his labrum, a relatively minor procedure. But since then, he pitched just 48 innings in the minors in 2004 and just 18 this year. Forearm stiffness prevented him from working more in 2005.

I don't think it's a make-or-break situation for him, though his health questions obviously have diminished his prospect luster. It's mainly an opportunity to get some much-needed innings.

Assistant editor Chris Kline was on hand to see Guzman pitch Wednesday, and reported that he showed a 91-93 mph fastball that peaked at 95. But he rarely used his curveball and his changeup wasn't as good as it was before he got hurt. It's not surprising that his secondary pitches got rusty during his inactivity. When he was healthy, all three of his offerings graded out as 70s on the 20-80 scouting scale at times.

Oct. 13, 2005

Righthander Wade Townsend, the eighth overall pick by the Devil Rays in the 2005 draft, was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow after making one appearance in the Arizona Fall League. Townsend, who went 0-4, 5.49 in his pro debut at short-season Hudson Valley, likely faces Tommy John surgery that would knock him out for the entire 2006 season.

Townsend was part of perhaps the most vaunted college rotation ever, teaming with Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann at Rice. All three went in the top eight choices of the 2004 draft.

But the track record of Owls starters taken in the first round this decade isn't good. Kenny Baugh (No. 11, Tigers, 2001) was shut down with a tired arm at the end of his first pro season and had surgery to repair a torn labrum the following year. Jon Skaggs (No. 42, Yankees, 2001) blew out his elbow in his first pro game and required Tommy John surgery.

Humber (No. 3, Mets, 2004) lasted just 15 pro starts before also needing Tommy John surgery. Niemann (No. 4, Devil Rays, 2004) has yet to go under the knife—he did have arthroscopic elbow surgery in the fall of 2003 while still at Rice—but made just 11 appearances this year because of shoulder problems.

    Angels shortstop Brandon Wood had 101 extra-base hits this season. Who was the last minor leaguer to do it? I know Adam Piatt was close in 1999, but I can't seem to find anyone else in recent years.

    Jason Pritchett
    Santa Monica, Calif.

    With Brandon Wood getting 101 extra-base hits this year, I was wondering how often this happens? When did it last happen in the major leagues?

    Ben Underhill
    Brattleboro, Vt.

Wood has kept up his spectacular hitting in the Arizona Fall League. He hit four homers in one game and has gone deep in all but one of his eight games for Surprise. He already has nine homers, already surpassing Conor Jackson's and Jason Repko's league-leading total of eight for 2004. At this point, would it surprise anyone if the Angels somehow added him to their postseason roster and he started terrorizing big league pitchers?

Getting 100 extra-base hits in a minor league season is extremely rare. How rare? So rare that we couldn't find the last instance. Piatt had 91 in 1999 and Joe Dillon had 92 last year, but the lack of computerized minor league records before the mid-1980s makes this a difficult question to answer.

Fortunately, minor league researcher Bob Hoie (San Marino, Calif.) came to the rescue. Hoie, who helped launch SABR's invaluable three-volume "Minor League Stars" series, emailed BaseballAmerica.com general manager Kevin Goldstein with this information:

In your article on the top prospects in the California League, you mentioned with respect to Brandon Wood that the records were "murky" about the last player to reach the century mark. I think the last to do it was Len Tucker. He had 104 extra-base hits in 140 games with Pampa in the old Class B Southwestern League in 1956.

According to my records, the highest total was 126 (in 197 games) by Tony Lazzeri with Salt Lake City (Pacific Coast) in 1925. Thirty-one players have reached 100 extra-base hits a total of 38 times, exactly half of them in the long season PCL from 1923-35. The last of that group was Joe DiMaggio with 100 in 172 games.

Wood's average of .75 XBH/G (101 in 134) has been exceeded just five times: Gordon Nell, Pampa 1939 (.83, 112 in 135 games) and 1940 (.77, 103 in 133); Bob Crues, Amarillo 1948 (.79, 110 in 140); Moses Solomon, Hutchinson 1923 (.78, 104 in 134); and Cecil "Dynamite" Dunn, Alexandria 1936 (.76, 105 in 139).

I live about 35 miles from Rancho Cucamonga and saw Wood about a dozen times. He looks like the real deal. Of course, I thought Jesus Colome was one of the best prospects I ever had seen in the California League, but that was when we all thought he was 19 rather than 22.

Big leaguers have totaled 100 extra-base hits in a season just 15 times, though it has happened on six occasions since 1995. Babe Ruth holds the record with 119 in 1921. Lou Gehrig (117 in 1927, 100 in 1930), Chuck Klein (107 in 1930, 103 in 1932) and Todd Helton (105 in 2001, 103 in 2000) are the only players to accomplish the feat twice.

Every eligible player to reach triple digits is in the Hall of Fame: Ruth, Gehrig, Klein, Hank Greenberg (103 in 1937), Stan Musial (103 in 1948), Rogers Hornsby (102 in 1922) and Jimmie Foxx (100 in 1932). The others to pull it off in recent seasons are Barry Bonds (107 in 2001), Albert Belle (103 in 1995), Sammy Sosa (103 in 2001) and Luis Gonzalez (100 in 2001).

    Do you think White Sox lefthander Daniel Haigwood will be a solid pitcher in the majors? Also, what are his chances of moving to a different team?

    Tom Dunn
    Chattanooga, Tenn.

The best way to describe Haigwood is that he just wins. He went 43-1 at Midland High in Pleasant Plains, Ark., and he has gone 32-11 as a pro. He had one of the better statistical years among minor league pitchers in 2005, going 14-3, 2.82 in 26 starts between high Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. He had a 160-64 strikeout-walk ratio in 144 innings, while limiting opponents to a .223 average and eight homers (including a .170 mark and no homers in Double-A).

A 16th-round pick in 2002, Haigwood missed all of 2003 after having surgery to fix a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He doesn't overwhelm hitters so much as keep them off balance. His curveball is his best pitch, his changeup has improved and he throws both two-seam and four-seam fastballs. His sinker is better than his four-seamer, which ranges from 88-92 mph.

Haigwood, 21, isn't a top-shelf pitching prospect, but he's worth watching. I can't imagine he's untouchable, but I also doubt the White Sox are just looking to give him away. Lefties with command of multiple pitches aren't easy to find.

    After scouring the Cape Cod League, I noticed Jim Negrych led Harwich in every offensive category except batting average and hits. I went to the University of Pittsburgh website, and it seems as if he has had a pretty productive career so far. Any word from scouts about his draft status for 2006?

    Chuck Whitmore
    Greenville, S.C.

Negrych was our first-team All-America second baseman in 2005, when he batted .349/.471/.694 with 16 homers, 59 RBIs and 11 steals in 54 games as a Pitt sophomore. He followed that up by hitting .224/.333/.420 with six homers, 21 RBIs and 10 steals in 43 games on the pitcher-friendly Cape.

Though he's just 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, the ball jumps off of Negrych's bat. He has a good swing, solid speed and the patience to take walks. He makes plays at second base but needs to polish his defense. At this point, he projects as a fifth- to 10th-round pick for the 2006 draft.

Oct. 5, 2005

My playoff predictions, made before the Division Series began yesterday, already are looking a bit rough.

Division Series winners: Angels, Red Sox, Astros, Cardinals.

Championship Series winners: Angels, Astros.

World Series winner: Astros.

My biggest reason for picking Houston? I like that they can start games with Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte, and finish them with Brad Lidge. They'll be able to score enough runs to win it all.

In case you hadn't noticed, BaseballAmerica.com general manager Kevin Goldstein has restored one of our website's most popular features, our Player Finder. Not only can you look up any minor leaguer's stats, but Kevin also has added features such as combined totals for players who spent time with multiple teams, OPS and groundball/flyball ratio.

Starting next week, look for Ask BA on Thursday rather than Wednesday. I answer questions every Wednesday afternoon in chats at ESPN.com, so moving Ask BA will spread things out a little bit.

    Now that the regular season is over, what's the selection order for the June 2006 draft? Who are the most likely top 10 picks based on talent and not signability? Are there any projected superstars a la Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez?

    Gerard Beck
    New York

    Do the Tigers have the sixth or seventh pick in the 2006 draft? They have the same record as the Dodgers, but I have no idea what the tiebreaker is.

    Noah Flugga
    Findlay, Ohio

    I haven't seen the 2006 draft order posted yet. Any idea on what the initial order looks like? Also, BA has run articles on potential draft changes in recent months, but I haven't seen anything regarding draft compensation for free agents. Are there any future changes in the works that you are aware of?

    Ted Geist
    Hockessin, Del.

To answer Noah's question first, the tiebreaker when teams finish with the same record is their previous season's performance. The team that finished with the worst record the year before gets the earlier pick.

Here's the 2006 draft order:

2006 Draft Order
1. Royals (56-106)11. Diamondbacks (77-85)21. Phillies (88-74)
2. Rockies (67-95)12. Rangers (79-83)22. Athletics (88-74)
3. Devil Rays (67-95)13. Cubs (79-83)23. Astros (89-73)
4. Pirates (67-95)14. Blue Jays (80-82)24. Braves (90-72)
5. Mariners (69-93)15. Nationals (81-81)25. Indians (93-69)
6. Tigers (71-91)16. Brewers (81-81)26. Angels (95-67)
7. Dodgers (71-91)17. Padres (82-80)27. Red Sox (95-67)
8. Reds (73-89)18. Mets (83-79)28. Yankees (95-67)
9. Orioles (74-88)19. Marlins (83-79)29. White Sox (99-63)
10. Giants (75-87)20. Twins (83-79)30. Cardinals (100-62)

Of course, that order will change in the first few rounds when free-agent compensation picks are awarded. Owners have discussed making changes to the draft, but they didn't propose anything regarding compensation. Their current priorities are moving the draft to the end of June, establishing a universal signing deadline in August and setting up a draft combine to evaluate top prospects.

Founding editor Allan Simpson is working on a Top 50 Prospects list for the 2006 draft as part of the issue we're currently working on, and I've talked to some scouting directors as well. Here's how the top of the draft looks right now:

Top Prospects, 2006 Draft
1. Andrew Miller, lhp, U. of North Carolina
2. Drew Stubbs, of, U. of Texas
3. Max Scherzer, rhp, U. of Missouri
4. Jordan Walden, rhp, Mansfield HS, Arlington, Texas
5. Daniel Bard, rhp, U. of North Carolina
6. Matt Latos, rhp, Coconut Creek (Fla.) HS
7. Wes Hodges, 3b, Georgia Tech
8. Ian Kennedy, rhp, U. of Southern California
9. Cody Johnson, of, Mosley HS, Lynnhaven, Fla.
10. Evan Longoria, ss, Long Beach State U.

Miller looks like the clear frontrunner, but he's not viewed anywhere near the class of a Griffey or Rodriguez. Let's stay on the subject of the 2006 draft for our next question . . .

    I'm excited at the thought of the Giants finally getting a first-round pick that's protected and can't be thrown away for the likes of Michael Tucker. I read a comment in one of your ESPN.com chats where you said the 2006 draft looked underwhelming and I was looking for more details. Is it high school- or college-heavy? Position players or pitchers? It has been a long time since Giants fans have been able to look forward to the first round of a draft. Who do you see them picking with the 10th overall pick? How big of a role will signability play?

    Danielle Silva
    Oakland

The 2006 draft does look underwhelming at this point, though so much can change when the players get back out on the diamond next spring. Based on this summer, when scouts followed Team USA, college summer leagues and high school showcases, it looks like the 2006 crop will be thin on position players after 2005 had been better in that regard than most recent drafts. There were 17 hitters taken in the first round this year, but 2006 probably will look more like 2004, which saw 19 pitchers go in the first 30 choices. Teams have been leaning more toward college players over high schoolers in recent years, and that probably won't change significantly.

The Giants have gone out of their way to lose first-round picks as free-agent compensation in recent years, and general manager Brian Sabean has said he'd rather spend millions of dollars on big leaguers than amateurs. So I think it's safe to say that signability will play a part in San Francisco's decision. It's very early to project with any accuracy, especially with the Giants, who haven't shown any preference for collegians vs. high schoolers or hitters vs. pitchers with their early draft picks.

Our best guess now as to the top player in each demographic who'd be available with the 10th pick would be Longoria, Oregon State righthander Dallas Buck, The Woodlands (Texas) High righty Kyle Drabek and Monsignor Pace High (Opa Locka, Fla.) third baseman Chris Marrero.

    Now that Alex Gordon (Royals) has signed, how would you compare him to Ian Stewart (Rockies) and Andy LaRoche (Dodgers), both offensively and defensively?

    Robert Barker
    Athens, Texas

Those three third basemen are all very close to each other as prospects. I'd rank them in this order—Stewart, Gordon, LaRoche—though that's more on gut feel than anything.

I'd say that Stewart is the best pure hitter, LaRoche has the best power and Gordon has the best combination of both, though again I'll emphasize that they're all close to each other in both categories. All of them are solid defenders but probably not future Gold Glovers. LaRoche has the strongest arm of the trio.

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