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Ask BA

By Josh Boyd

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.

April 17, 2001

The Twins are the talk of baseball. Their primarily homegrown club boasts the best record in the majors. It's the kind of thing we here at Baseball America like to see. The team's average age is under 27, and the roster is littered with players that BA has touted on Minnesota's Top 10 lists during the '90s. Luis Rivas (1998) and LaTroy Hawkins (1995) were rated as the system's number-one prospect, while Eric Milton, obtained in the fruitful Chuck Knoblauch deal, was the Yankees best prospect in 1998.

What does that leave for the Twins down on the farm? They were rated right in the middle of the road (15th overall) in our recent Minor League Preview. The system's composite winning percentage in 2000 was fourth-best in baseball, which bodes well for the future. Minnesota's rotation is already one of the youngest in baseball, and righthanders Matt Kinney (Triple-A) and Adam Johnson (Double-A) provide important depth in the minors. Minnesota is counting on two-time, top-rated prospect Michael Cuddyer, Mike Restovich, B.J. Garbe and Matt LeCroy, who are coming off of subpar seasons to turn things around in 2001. Early reports have Cuddyer and Restovich struggling in New Britain (combined: one extra-base hit in 52 at bats; 17 K's). Further down the road, 19-year-old Justin Morneau is blossoming into a dangerous offensive force. The lefthanded slugging first baseman is pacing the Midwest League with a .474 and eye-popping .784 slugging percentage.

How long will the Twins be able to sustain their current level of play? Well, of course they can't play .750 ball forever, but within their limited budget they have built an up-and-coming team and there is more talent brewing on the horizon.

On to your questions...

I thought that the Player Find was a great addition, but I haven't been able to find it after you removed it from your front page. I would be grateful for some help.

Andrew Geist
Colorado

Nobody can find the Player Find? How ironic. Anyway, it is still there, and not hard to find, but we are sorry for the confusion. Just click on the "Stats" button on the lefthand navigation bar and voila! You will see "Find a Player atop the page. Or for your convenience, here is the direct link to Baseball America's Player Finder.

    Hello, have you any information on Atlanta righthander Matt Belisle? I heard a rumor he had back surgery. Do you know how bad, when will he be back, should he be back at 100%?

    Michael Dackiw
    Sterling Heights, MI

That rumor you heard was true (unfortunately).Atlanta's farm director Dick Balderson told me that Belisle had a ruptured disc operated on two weeks ago and that the promising righthander will be out "indefinitely." He didn't give an ETA for Belisle's potential return, however, he did say that he was rehabbing near his home in Texas.

 

    Do you know why the Dodgers sent Chin-Feng Chen back to Class A Vero Beach? I know he didn't have a good season last year, but didn't his shoulder injury have something to do with it?

    Also, can you tell me where Hong Chi-Kuo is in his rehab efforts, and where do you think he would start the year when ready?

    Thanks,

    Nick Eustrom
    Woodland Hills

After Chen exploded onto the scene in 1999, there weren't many scouts who didn't like what they saw. He possessed electric bat speed and the ball took off upon contact. Though it's impossible to say, it's a safe bet that his performance last year was significantly hindered by the shoulder injury. Chen also struggled to make in-season adjustments last year. While he was trying to cover the outer half of the plate better, pitchers learned to tie him up inside, resulting in his power outage and strike zone problems. Our Dodgers correspondent, Matt McHale reports to us that Chen is in Vero Beach primarily to rehab his shoulder, and to be close to the Dodgers extended spring camp. He is on track to join Jacksonville shortly, and resume playing left field.

Kuo, coming off of Tommy John surgery, is also in Florida rehabbing his lively left arm. The Dodgers aren't speculating on an ETA for his return to the mound, but it's been a year and he recently threw 60 pitches. My guess is that he'll be back in action by mid-season, and throwing in the Florida State League if he's anywhere near the 97 MPH heat he was last spring.

 

 

    What high school and college players have really come out of nowhere this year to be in contention for the high rounds of the upcoming June draft?

    Richard Getzel
    Bayside, NY

Who better to answer a draft question than BA's draft guru Allan Simpson? Here's what he had to say in response to Richard's question:

As is the nature of the baseball draft, there are always going to be a handful of players who essentially come out of nowhere each spring. This year, the two college players who have risen the furthest are first baseman-pitcher John VanBenschoten of Kent State and righthander Jeremy Guthrie of Stanford. The fastest rising high school players are both from Texas: righthander Colt Griffin of Marshall High and lefthander Trey Taylor of Mansfield High.

 

April 12, 2001

Welcome to a new era of Ask BA. You will quickly notice that while the initials are still J.B., all of the other letters have changed in the byline. I am proudly taking the reins from James Bailey, and I hope to be able to bring you the same level of quality and insight that he was able to during his stint--with a little of my own flavor and knowledge. It's obvious that he had a huge following, and it's easy to see why. Prior to my gig at Baseball America, I, myself, was a big fan, reading the column on a daily basis... even floating inquiries James' way from time to time.

As James did, I will try to respond to as many of your e-mails as possible, regardless of whether they are posted on the site or not. I am also looking forward to getting to know some of the regulars in the "Ask BA Cafe," and taking on the challenges of your questions.

Without further ado, here it goes: the new JB's debut. What better to get things going than to start off with a leadoff hitter?

    Would you call Bobby Hill one of the better second base prospects in baseball? He had a huge year last year and is putting up great numbers in Double-A this year. When do you see him making an impact with the Cubbies?

    Colin Parker
    Nova Scotia

Just three second baseman made our Top 100 Prospects list prior to the season (four if you include David Espinoza). Of the other three, the highest-rated—Jose Ortiz (34)—and Luis Rivas are everyday big leaguers now, which leaves Marcus Giles (54). While it's still early, Hill is rapidly establishing himself as one of the premier second base prospects—flashing the skills that made him an All-American at Miami, and a two-time second-round pick. His independent league numbers were inflated last year, as the Atlantic League is not on par with the Double-A Southern League, but Hill is also showcasing top-of-the-order tools.

With only three prospects deep at the position in the Top 100, the corps of second baseman is obviously lacking, but here are some others who are in, or near, Giles and Hill's class. Pablo Ozuna, who started the season on the DL; Chase Utley, whose bat is expected to carry him quickly to the bigs; Brent Abernathy, who was sent to Triple-A Durham after an impressive spring; a pair of Rangers: Jason Romano and Mike Young. New to the position is Felipe Lopez (#32 on the Top 100), while Keith Ginter has shifted to the outfield.

    My son is a freshman college baseball player who soon will be deciding on his summer plans. He must choose whether to play in a collegiate wood bat league in Arizona or to take the summer off from baseball games to get stronger and faster. Playing almost every day in the summer heat here makes it virtually impossible to do both. We were intrigued by the recent BA story about Kent State outfielder John VanBenshoten, who made great strides during his offseason strength program in Florida. It would seem that the summer between a college player's freshman and sophomore seasons would be a better time to do this than next year, when he would benefit from summer league exposure going into his junior season. Any thoughts on decision?

    Jeff Lane
    Phoenix

This question falls under college expert John Manuel's jurisdiction. Here's what he had to say:

Jeff, that's a great question, and as a fat slob, I kind of feel unqualified to answer it. But I do think you're right. If your son is going to pick one summer in which to play in a wood-bat league such as the Cape Cod League or Coastal Plain League or Alaska or wherever, it probably is a better idea for him to do so prior to his junior season. A lot of players are drafted almost solely off what they did in the summer prior to their junior season. Of course your son's physical maturity also is a factor in this decision. With VanBenschoten, he said he just felt he needed a push over the hump, but he was still playing baseball. The Baseball Academy, which VanBenschoten attended, has the players in games and this year will add a full summer league called the Florida Instructional League. So it's not like he wasn't playing baseball and was just working out. I think that's an important point to realize, that VanBenschoten was improving himself physically and was still working on his baseball skills. The payoff: VanBenschoten, now 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, might be the first college position player drafted after Mark Teixeira.

    Last week the Brewers swapped hard-throwing bullpen righthanders in Juan Acevedo for Mike DeJean of the Rockies. The Brewers added hard-throwing Kane Davis, who so far hasn't shown any reason to be more than a 4-A player, and Jose Flores, a career minor league infielder. The Rockies added journeyman Mark Leiter and promising infield prospect Elvis Pena. The deal seems to be a wash until you get to the two infielders. Why would the Rockies give away a prospect like Pena in this deal? He seems to have a very patient eye by posting a near .400 OBP last year (.399) in a pitchers' league (Southern League), can hit for average, posting a .300 BA last year, is extremely fast with 40-plus stolen bases, and can play short or second (maybe even third base in the Brewers system).

    His defense seems to be the one area of weakness with 30+ errors last year, but that always seems to be the easiest area of concern to correct. I realize they have Uribe, whom they're very high on, but he's still a couple of levels away. Did they want Acevedo that bad, and/or want to get rid of Mark Leiter that much? It seems as though the Brewers got a pretty good prospect in Pena, and am trying to figure out how and why it seemed so easy. I realize Pena seemed to be a man without a position, but with Perez possibly out now, that deal could hurt them.

    Also, the Brewers picked up outfield prospect Alex Sanchez off of waivers late last week. I noticed he was once as high as the No. 3 prospect overall in the Devil Rays organization. Did he just run out of time with that organization, and does he still have some room to grow into his once-talented career? And if so, is he at best the next Marquis Grissom?

    Welcome back. I always enjoyed this segment of BA as it adds a little more diversity into your weekly schedule. Thanks for fielding our questions, and thanks for a great publication and a great Website for all of us baseball junkies.

    Patrick Ebert
    Milwaukee

I don't know if I can take any of the credit yet, but thanks for the kind words for BA. As for the Rockies/Brewers swap, this trade has quickly turned sour for Colorado as Acevedo went down with a groin injury (which hopefully won't lead to a David Wells-like "Groin-gate"), and Neifi Perez' injury forced them to go to the highly touted Juan Uribe well ahead of schedule. Did they want Acevedo that bad? Well, yes, they are apparently high on him, and you'll remember, this is an organization that knows him well. He emerged as a prospect in 1994 for the Rockies' Double-A Eastern League affiliate, going 17-6, 2.37 before beginning his career as a journeyman swingman. And with a healthy Perez and Uribe ranking ahead of Pena on the depth chart, coupled with Todd Walker's production at second, Pena became expendable. This is Pena's eighth season in the organization, and while he has displayed the ability to get on base and use his speed as a weapon, he could be headed for a utility role.

Switching topics, Sanchez was highly regarded once upon a time, as most Cuban refugees are, but the Devil Rays were disappointed with his lack of progress after a breakthrough 1998 campaign. He dropped all the way to 24th on Tampa's Top 30, and was lost in a crowded organizational outfield picture. His lack of power and disregard for drawing walks were near the top of the list of things that have led to his demise, not to mention a perceived discipline problem. So, to answer your question, I think he would be fortunate to have a ceiling as high as Grissom's, which isn't saying much.


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