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Ask BA

By James Bailey

If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. (Please include your name and hometown.)

August 31, 2000

Did you happen to notice whom the Cubs called up yesterday? None other than Ross Gload, one of the subjects of Tuesday's column. Can't beat that for timing.

Gload was summoned when the Cubs designated Brant Brown for assignment and should get a little bit of playing time over the next month. In fact, he's in the lineup today, making his major league debut in left field against the Padres.

We've got yet another Rule 5 comment to start things off today. Seems like we can't get away from them. But this one was actually kind of clever, so here it is.

    Regarding the Rule 5 Draft, a simple way to redistribute talent AND not harm the drafted player would be to permit a drafting team to option a Rule 5 draftee to the minor leagues, just as with any other player on the 40-man roster.

    Phil Stenholm
    Tempe, AZ

That just makes way too much sense to ever happen.

    I have not seen Sean Burroughs' name in the Mobile boxscores for over a week. Is he injured? Travis Dawkins is still playing for Chattanooga, so Sean is not likely to be with the Olympic team yet, or is he? Thanks.

    Terry Graham
    New Albany, Indiana

Burroughs returned to San Diego to have his sore ankle checked out by the Padres' doctors. Assuming everything checks out okay, he'll rest for a couple of days then get to work with Team USA in preparation for the Olympics.

Incidentally, Burroughs ended up hitting .291 with 29 doubles and two homers for Mobile this year. The power still isn't coming through yet, but that's not a bad year for a guy playing in Double-A in his second pro season. We got a lot of mail all summer that ran along the lines of "what's wrong with Sean Burroughs." I believe we ran at least one of them in this space. I still say there's nothing wrong with what he's done this year.

That being said, he's still not the guy I'd have chosen to play third base on the Olympic team. I thought all along that they would choose Scott McClain, who's playing for Triple-A Colorado Springs this year. McClain is hitting .276 with 25 homers and 87 RBIs. I think his experience would have been valuable on Team USA. But believe it or not, they never actually called and asked for my input.

    Will there be a California Fall League or something similar this year?

    dob2c@mediaone.net

The Arizona Fall League will be the only developmental league running this year. The CFL ran into too many problems last season and they decided to shelve it in the spring. The league has moved from Hawaii to Maryland to California over the past three years, with no success anywhere.

The problem for the league is that unlike the AFL, the CFL was not operated by Major League Baseball. The California League teams that ran the fall clubs wanted more funding from MLB to avoid losing money on the deal, but didn't get it.

Without significant financial support from MLB, a fall league simply won't work. It's a great idea to have a developmental league for Class A players who aren't ready for the AFL. But it won't draw fans, or at least not enough to be viable from a business standpoint. Unless MLB changes its stance on the league, it could be gone for good. But it's definitely gone for this year.

    Why is David Eckstein, the infielder for the Boston Red Sox' Triple-A club (Pawtucket) now shown with an X next to his statistics? I checked the minor league transactions, and he wasn't promoted or demoted, so why are his stats shown as being for someone who is no longer on the team?

    Robert Goldberg
    Lyndhurst, New Jersey

The Angels claimed Eckstein on waivers on August 16 and assigned him to Triple-A Edmonton. Sometimes transactions, especially ones like waiver claims, don't show up in the reports we get, so they aren't included when we post the minor league transactions each Friday.

    I noticed that Octavio Martinez was recently named Appalachian League player of the year and then promoted to Frederick. His offense obviously looks promising and his defense is reputed to be excellent. Is he on the road to passing Jayson Werth as the O's catcher of the future? What can you tell me about him?

    Thanks,
    David Ward
    Mansfield, MA

Martinez had a fine season for Rookie-level Bluefield, hitting .387 with seven homers and 46 RBIs before moving on to Class A Frederick this week. He may not project as that type of offensive threat down the road, but he should be a solid hitter. He does play excellent defense and that alone should carry him to the big leagues. But it's probably premature to call him the catcher of the future for the Orioles.

There are not many players in Rookie ball who should be saddled with the label of "catcher of the future," "shortstop of the future," etc. At least not in my opinion. Every once in a while someone like Josh Hamilton comes along who is ready for a tag like that. But when there are still four levels to climb to get to the big leagues a lot can go wrong. Some of that might even be attributed in some cases to the expectations that go with dubbing a young man the "catcher of the future" for his organization.

If Martinez repeats his performance at a higher level next year, feel free to label him the Orioles' catcher of the future. But it's a little early right now.

August 29, 2000

It's another potpourri day at Ask BA. Five questions, all unrelated other than that they deal with baseball.

    What do you think of Giants prospect Jerome Williams? This is an 18-year-old in his first full season of pro ball, in high Class A. He is 7-6 with a 2.98 ERA so far and a 105/46 K/BB ratio. Is this guy for real? Why aren't we hearing as much about him as another Giants pitching prospect Kurt Ainsworth?

    David
    San Jose, CA

Williams is definitely for real. A supplemental first-round pick out of Waipahu High in Hawaii last year, he has pitched well ever since signing with the Giants.

His manager at San Jose, Keith Comstock, compares Williams to a young Doc Gooden, but don't expect him to jump from Class A to the big leagues next year. Williams throws in the low 90s now, but the Giants expect he'll turn that up to the mid-90s by the time he reaches the big leagues.

The reason we hear more about Ainsworth than Williams is that he was drafted ahead of him and is closer to the big leagues. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be better long-term than Williams. The two of them are definitely the core of the Giants farm system at this point.

    After Scott Heard's putrid numbers this year in high school, the last thing I expected in his pro debut would be his offensive outburst. Has he made major adjustments or were his high school numbers just fluke?

    Brad

Heard's offense was a bit of an unknown entering this spring because he had missed much of his junior season due to a wrist injury. But he had been expected to hit, especially adding some weight and strength.

I suspect that a lot of his struggles can be chalked up to the expectations that go with being in the spotlight like he was all spring. It can't be easy to hit knowing that everyone is whispering about your sub-.300 average, etc.

Once he fell to No. 25 in the draft, he was no longer the guy in the spotlight. He's been able to relax a little this summer, and as a result, he's hitting .351 with 16 doubles in 111 at-bats. In case you missed the Daily Highlights yesterday, Heard had five doubles in Sunday night's game. He's probably not a .351 hitter down the road, but I'd guess he won't be a defense-only guy.

    I'm sure this guy doesn't fall into your "Legit Prospect" category, but he's such a statistical freak that I have to ask about him. What's the scoop on Esix Snead? 100-plus steals, in any league, should be enough to impress Ray Knight and Peter Gammons. Sure, you'd like to see another skill somewhere in his tool box, but can he play? If nothing else, it's fun to say "Esix Snead."

    Will Carroll

Snead is an intriguing player because of his speed, and he's come a long ways in his three seasons in the Cardinals organization. But he's got a long ways to go before you can picture him topping off the order in St. Louis.

With 108 stolen bases for Potomac this year, he's got nearly as many steals as hits. Even though he's walking at a good pace, his on-base average is just .344 because his batting average is sitting at .235. Since Sneed provides no extra-base punch whatsoever, he'll need an on-base percentage around .400 to be a useful guy in the lineup.

Can he do that? Well, he's made a lot of progress, basically by completely rebuilding his swing. He's definitely a hard worker and the Cardinals have put in a lot of time working with him to improve. I think he'll continue to get better, but I'm not sure he's ever going to get on base enough to justify the lack of pop. Still, he plays a great center field and I think at worst he'll be a fine fourth or fifth outfielder who can shake things up with some speed and defense late in the game.

    When the Cubs dumped underperforming/overpaid Henry Rodriguez at the deadline, my understanding was that both outfielder Ross Gload and lefthander David Noyce were minor league roster-fill, unlikely to ever play a major league game. But after a promotion to Triple-A Iowa Gload has gone nuts. His history has always shown high average and good plate discipline, but suddenly he's also a 30-HR guy besides. What can you say about him? Is he a Glenallen Hill defensively, or something? Did the Cubs get lucky for a change, and could he develop into a John Vander Wal type player, or perhaps even better?

    Craig Jasperse
    Fargo, North Dakota

Gload is destroying the Pacific Coast League. In 98 at-bats he's batting .408 with 13 homers and 36 RBIs. I know it's less than 100 at-bats, but it's fun to look at a .939 slugging percentage.

In 100 games for Double-A Portland before the trade, Gload hit .284 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs and drew 29 walks against 53 strikeouts. A 13th-round pick in 1997 out of South Florida, Gload had 25 home runs in three seasons entering 2000. He's already got 29 this year alone. Has he suddenly developed into a power threat? Well, he's on a heck of a tear, but it's hard to call a guy a power hitter based on one great month in the PCL.

Considering that the Cubs were probably willing to just give Rodriguez away, they probably did okay for themselves with this deal. Gload could become an option in left field or at first base and if he can string together a month like he's having right now in spring training, he just might find himself some playing time in Chicago next season.

    What chance does Andres Galarraga have of making The Hall of Fame? He should finish with over 400 home runs, is already well over 1,200 RBIs and is a career .291 hitter. In three more seasons, he should pass Mickey Mantle's RBI total. He's a one-time MVP, and a probable comeback player of the year this year.

    What do you think?

    Thank you,
    Michael Marinaro

Galarraga's had some nice years and a solid career, but he's not a Hall of Famer in my book.

If not for a four-year slide when he should have been in the prime of his career, that might be a different story. From 1989-92, when he was 28-31, Galarraga hit .246 with 64 home runs and 244 RBIs. That averages out to 16 homers and 61 RBIs a year. If Galarraga could have just posted numbers closer to what he's done the rest of his career, he'd be a strong candidate for the Hall. But a four-year slump in your prime really hurts.

As for Mantle's RBI total of 1,509, Galarraga is 253 behind him right now and he's already 39. I wouldn't project him to even be playing three years from now.

Galarraga's offense seemed to come alive when offense throughout baseball exploded. Playing in Colorado for a few years didn't hurt, but he kept producing after moving to Atlanta, so you can't write him off as a Coors Field wonder.

Still, when you look around baseball, there are several other first basemen that slot in ahead of Galarraga if you want to make comparisons to his contemporaries. Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas have had better careers, while Fred McGriff has posted basically the same numbers, in a more consistent manner. Tino Martinez is seven years younger than Galarraga and trails him by just 383 RBIs. Several other younger players, like Jim Thome and Carlos Delgado, are on pace to do more than he's done, assuming they don't hit four-year slumps of their own.

So there isn't much case for Galarraga making the Hall. If you believe in Total Baseball's Total Player rankings, the Big Cat had a -4.2 career mark coming into this season. I don't think that's a true indication of his career value, but it's one way of breaking things down.

August 24, 2000

I have to start off today with a couple of notes on Tuesday's column. First, it has been pointed out that Lance Berkman is not eligible for NL Rookie of the Year due to his service time. I mistakenly added him to the list of candidates for that award, because he is eligible for ours.

We base our award on at-bats/innings and don't factor major league splinter time into the equation. Berkman had 80 days of service last year, but got only 93 at-bats. Per the standard 130 at-bat cutoff, he's a rookie in our eyes. But take his name off the NL list.

Next comes the Rafael Furcal age controversy.

    It has been reported that the Brave's Furcal is actually 22 or 23, not 19. Still a good young player, but not as huge a prospect as he would be if he were really 19.

    David Schock
    Philadelphia

Furcal and the Braves both deny the report that says he's 22-23. So until someone actually substantiates that, we're sticking with his "official" age.

Furcal had a strong incentive to change his story earlier this year, when he was cited for underage drinking. It would have been easy enough for him at that point to try to get around that by revealing that he was actually older than 21. He did not. That doesn't necessarily prove that he's not older than 19, but we need more than the HBO special to go by. Maybe we could give Furcal some Lesli Brea truth serum and find out he's actually 26.

    I went to the Norfolk Tides Website and it said that Mark Johnson made the Olympic team, but then I checked your site and he didn't make the team. Was he ever on the team?

    Dracula513@aol.com

Johnson could go down in history as the phantom Team USA member. There were others who received strong consideration and didn't make the club, but he was the only one included on the roster that USA Baseball sent out. They apparently are trying to play it off like the Tides and the International League released inaccurate information, but the bottom line is, they were the source for it.

If you want to read more on the Johnson situation, check out the Virginian-Pilot.

    I am a long time Pittsburgh Pirates fan. My question is, is the Pirates farm system as bad as it seems to look on paper? There seems to be not much talent on the major league roster as well to contend anytime in the near future. From witnessing as many games on TV as I can with the Pirates, I have noticed that almost every rookie brought up never pans out to a quality productive major leaguer.

    In the last ten years I can only name a few who are at least productive such as Kris Benson, Tony Womack and Jason Kendall. Most of the players currently on the roster have come from trades with other organizations. Is there anything to look forward to other than the new ballpark with the prospects the Pirates currently have?

    Marc Simmons
    Elkins, WV

While there isn't much at the upper levels of the Pirates system, there is talent in the pipeline. Low Class A Hickory has been lauded this season as one of the best collections of talent on one roster in the minor leagues.

The Hickory shine hasn't been quite so bright since righthander Bobby Bradley went down with elbow trouble earlier this year, but he wasn't the only guy there worth getting excited about. Catcher J.R. House is leading the South Atlantic League in hitting with a .340 average and ranks second in homers with 20. Outfielder Tony Alvarez has had a strong season. And lefthander Dave Williams and righthander Justin Reid have both done quite well. Righthander Luis Torres hasn't had a lot of success this year, but he's just 20 and the Pirates like him. Righthander Jeff Bennett and shortstop Jose Castillo are also worth keeping an eye on.

As for the talent higher in the system, the Pirates had some really awful drafts in the mid-90s. In 1994, the only player they took who has reached the majors is lefthander Jimmy Anderson (ninth round). The year before that they took outfielder Jermaine Allensworth (first), righthander Kane Davis (13th) and lefthander Chris Peters (37th). Well, they took a bunch of other guys too, but they didn't really pan out. In 1995 they added Chad Hermansen (first) and 43 other guys who have yet to see white balls in batting practice. And in 1996 Kris Benson (first) came aboard. It's a little early to write off the rest of that draft, but he's the only one to reach the big leagues so far.

That's not much of a haul for a four-year span and that's why you don't see many young prospects breaking in with the Pirates these days.

    Who do you think might be the best September callups this year? Are there any Mark Quinns out there this year?

    John Barten
    Indianapolis, IN

If by Mark Quinn you mean you're looking for an underrated kind of guy who will come up and hit a home run every 10 at-bats then, hmmm, that's a toughie.

I've got a few names to throw at you, but I can't guarantee Quinn-like success:

John Barnes, of, Twins (Triple-A Salt Lake). Barnes looks like the best bet to follow Quinn as the PCL batting champ with a .365 mark. That's five points better than Quinn's 1999 average at Omaha. Barnes doesn't quite have as much power, with just 12 home runs, but he could pop a few out in the Metrodome. He came over from the Red Sox two years ago along with righthander Matt Kinney in the big Greg Swindell/Orlando Merced deal.

Brady Clark, of, Reds (Triple-A Louisville). Clark has the underrated part down to a tee. He originally signed as a nondrafted free agent and was released by the Reds before ever playing. They re-signed him and he's really produced the past couple of seasons. At Double-A Chattanooga last year he hit .326 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs in 506 at-bats. He's following up with a .303-15-68 showing at Louisville and leading the International League with 37 doubles.

Joe Crede, 3b, White Sox (Double-A Birmingham). The last thing the White Sox need right now is more rookies on the big league roster, but if they maintain a safe lead they can get Crede some at-bats. He's batting .313 with 20 homers and 89 RBIs in the Southern League.

Keith Ginter, 2b, Astros (Double-A Round Rock). Craig Biggio's injury clears the path for Ginter to get playing time, but one would think the Astros would have called him up already. They must be leaving him down to lead Round Rock through the Texas League playoffs. In 426 at-bats there he's batting .347 with 26 homers and 90 RBIs. He's even Biggio-like in his willingness to take one for the team, having been plunked 23 times already. Combine that with 79 walks and you've got a .473 on-base percentage. He might not be heavy on tools, but he's certainly earned an opportunity with what he's done.

Josh Towers, rhp, Orioles (Triple-A Rochester). Towers has exceptional control, which could enable him to sneak out a few wins in September. In 133 innings at Rochester he's walked just 18 batters and struck out 89. He's also allowed just 143 hits, so he keeps guys off base. He's not going to come up and blow the ball past big league hitters, but he should keep from beating himself, which gives him a shot. And with the lineup the Orioles are running out there now, he'll feel just like he's back in the minor leagues.

August 22, 2000

I was in kind of a grouchy mood most of the day yesterday. Not just because it was Monday, but that probably didn't help. I won't go into much detail, in part because sometimes I get in one of those moods and don't even know exactly why. But I found something that pulled me right out of it last night. Would you believe a baseball game?

It wasn't just any game. It was a battle between the two last place teams in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. (For some reason I'm reminded of Alex P. Keaton's "clash of the titans" comment regarding the Mariners and Indians on Family Ties back in the mid-80s.) For a while Johnson City was working Burlington over real good: By the middle of the sixth inning, the Cardinals had an 11-1 lead. A good thrashing can be therapeutic, I guess, but that wasn't what did it for me. Suddenly the Indians began to rally. It started with a home run by first-round pick Corey Smith to lead off the home half of the second. It was a laser shot, too, the kind you can hang the laundry on. Nice, but that made it 11-2 and at the time it seemed like too little, too late.

But the Indians were just getting started. They tacked on three more that inning and three more the next. Suddenly, it was 11-8 Johnson City and things were getting interesting. That was still the score in the bottom of the ninth when the Indians had two outs and a man at second base. It's funny to say, but I had a feeling they would pull it out. We had been joking all night in the press box about an amazing comeback. Wouldn't you know the last-place Indians rallied for four more runs to pull out a 12-11 win. When Jesus Colmenter singled to left to bring in the tying and winning runs, the entire Burlington team rushed out onto the field to celebrate as if they had just won the playoffs. Even the guys who were charting pitches in the stands found their way out to the party.

Most of the focus in the minor leagues is on player development, and with that in mind it's easy for players to wrap themselves up in their own concerns a lot of the time. But deep down inside you know they all want to win. Seeing a game like last night's just drove that home a little bit. I'm sure Johnson City probably didn't enjoy it much, but it really was an amazing game. And by the time I left the ballpark I didn't feel like I had much weighing me down any more.

From Rookie-ball to the National League rookie of the year, we cover it all here at Ask BA. Let's start things off with a question from an Adam Eaton fan.

    Do you think Adam Eaton has a legitimate shot at the National League rookie of the year award? Rick Ankiel had it pretty much locked up ever since he got called up to the majors last year. But seeing how Ankiel has struggled at times and how Eaton has shown strong composure and has not struggled throughout this year, it is very tempting to say that Adam Eaton is a better candidate for the award.

    Red
    Reno, NV

Eaton has really come on strong and his numbers are comparable in many ways to Ankiel's right now. But neither of them is my favorite for the NL award at this point. If I were voting I'd go with Rafael Furcal.

Furcal made the jump from Class A this year at age 19 (he turns 20 on Thursday) and has moved into the starting lineup as the leadoff man on the best team in baseball. He's batting .292 in 308 at-bats and getting on base at a .384 clip. He's also bounced between shortstop and second base, playing terrific defense at both positions.

The only blemishes on his season have been a drinking-and-driving incident and HBO allegations that he's actually three years older than he says. He and the Braves both adamantly deny that charge, though.

I think Ankiel and Eaton are the Nos. 2 and 3 candidates, but with a quarter of the season left their order is yet to be determined. Ankiel weighs in after 23 starts with a 7-7, 4.04 record. In 129 1/3 innings he's allowed 106 hits and 74 walks and struck out 140 batters. Eaton has made just 15 starts, but already has posted 100 innings. He's 4-2 with a 2.97 ERA and has allowed 87 hits and 44 walks. He's also struck out 72.

Both have their strengths right now. If I had to give the edge to one of them, I'd give a slight advantage to Eaton. But they each should have about 8-9 starts left and a lot can change.

In the event Furcal and the pitchers falter, Mitch Meluskey (.297-11-52 in 249 at-bats) and Pat Burrell (.255-13-56 in 278 at-bats) are waiting in the wings.

    On this rule about a Rule 5 draftee having to spend 90 days on the active roster [from last Thursday's column], or he has to be on the same system the following year, what will the Devil Rays do with Damien Rolls? I don't think he'll even be on their roster in September. I think they could pass him through waivers without anyone claiming him. The Mets took Hector Mercado in 1998 and stored him on their 60-day DL for the season. After the season, no one wanted to take a risk on such an injury-prone player. He cleared waivers easy to Triple-A. He only made two starts the next season before becoming a minor league free agent, but the point is, this strategy still makes sense. Also do you think more teams will try to do what the Pirates did last year (Select a guy in the Rule 5 draft, and nontender him to keep him.)

    Ken Bumbaco
    Norfolk, VA

I would guess what will happen with Rolls is exactly what Ken outlined. After the season the Devil Rays will try to get him through waivers, and he'll probably clear.

So is that a good strategy for stocking up on Rule 5 picks without having to keep them on the big league roster? It depends on what your goal is. If your goal is just to be able to keep the player then that's not such a bad strategy. If your goal is to keep a player that will actually help your team down the road, it's probably just a waste of time.

The more I look at it, the more I have philosophical issues with the Rule 5 draft. The problem is that it doesn't really seem to help anyone. Success stories are few and far between and there seem to be a lot of players who waste away for a year on a major league bench--or worse, a major league DL--and never get back on track. Some of these players might have actually developed into major league players if not for the year-long development detour. Of course, we'll never know for sure.

A lot of them are kids who are coming out of Class A and they need at-bats or innings to continue to improve. Sure they can learn a lot from being around older players, etc., and they'll get a few at-bats here and there, but if that were a good development strategy you might see teams doing it with other players. You never do, because it's not.

The most practical use a team could make of the Rule 5 draft is probably to pick up a reliever or backup position player out of the Triple-A ranks. The problem with that strategy is you could sign similar players as minor league free agents and not be restricted by having to keep them on your 40-man roster.

As for the Pirates dealings with Brian Smith, the door has been opened for recurrences of this in the future. For those who don't remember, the Pirates drafted righthander Brian Smith from the Blue Jays, then nontendered him a few days later and re-signed him as a free agent. A brilliant move, really, except why waste the strategy on him? Had the Angels done the same thing with Derrick Turnbow it would have made a lot of sense--and made a lot of people really angry.

The thing is, if a team is going to try that, they have to know the player would be willing to re-sign with them as a free agent. And you can't ask him before you draft him, because that's tampering. Besides, it's really not in the player's best interest to do so. If the player is regarded as much of a prospect at all, to draft him and nontender him is doing him a tremendous favor, because now he's a free agent, eligible to negotiate with all 30 teams. Why in the world would he quietly sign with the team that drafted him without testing the waters?

It may be time for baseball to let the Rule 5 draft go. When it was devised in the 1950s it was supposedly a vehicle to allow players who were backed up in the minor leagues to find a chance with a new team. Now those players can move around as six-year minor league free agents every winter. If the argument for keeping it is that it helps redistribute talent from the strong organizations to the weak, then it's failing miserably.

The only real argument that can be made for keeping the Rule 5 draft is that it gives us something to talk about in the dead of winter. Some of you may remember the Rule 5 draft pool we conducted here amongst several members of the BA crew. And as long as the draft exists, I'll enjoy speculating with everyone else on who might go. But there's really little practical use for the December draft other than our entertainment, even if you try to take advantage of the loopholes.

    I've been noticing that Josue Matos is having a fantastic year between high Class A Lancaster and Double-A New Haven. The Ravens Website lists him at 22 years old. Everything about his numbers look very good (3:1 K:BB ratio, less than 1 H/IP, 3.12 ERA) but he's not mentioned in any of the prospect listings on any site. Anything you can tell us about Mr. Matos' drastic burst upon the prospect scene? Do the Mariners have yet another hard throwing solid starting pitching prospect on their hands?

    Thanks,
    David A. Cameron
    Seattle

Matos is quietly having a strong season. In 11 starts at New Haven he's gone 4-4 with a 3.12 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings. He began the year at Lancaster, going 3-3, 2.64 with 93 strikeouts in 89 innings. On the year he's walked a measly 38 hitters in 158 innings. That's simply outstanding control.

The Mariners regard Matos as a prospect, though not quite in the class of Ryan Anderson or Cha Sueng Baek, ceiling-wise. He's not overpowering, but throws four pitches: fastball, changeup, slider and curve. His changeup is probably his best pitch right now.

Matos is a Puerto Rico native who signed with the Mariners as a draft-and-follow in 1997 after attending Miami-Dade CC South. He was originally selected in the 27th round of the '96 draft. He put up some impressive numbers in his first year of full-season ball last year, going 9-9 with a 4.63 ERA in 25 appearances for Class A Wisconsin. In 138 innings he allowed 143 hits and 42 walks and struck out 136.

Speaking of Wisconsin, we've had a lot of questions recently about outfielder Chris Snelling. So while we're talking Mariners farmhands, here's one of those.

    I've noticed that Chris Snelling's statistics for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers aren't changing. I can't find him eslewhere in the Seatlle organization. What is the nature of his injury and is he out for the rest of the season? He intrigues me as a prospect because of his age and the fact that he looks like the best Australian prospect since Dave Nilsson.

    Evan L. Carter
    Brooklyn, NY

Snelling broke his hand in June when he dove into a wall in the outfield. When his hand finally healed, his wrist began bothering him. The Mariners believe the wrist was damaged at the same time his hand was injured and it just went unnoticed until he tried to start playing again.

The Mariners are hopeful that he'll be back in action before the end of the season. So is the Australian Olympic team. Snelling will be on the Australian team if he's healthy enough to play. If he's not ready by the end of the Midwest League season it's going to be a real tough call for the Mariners. Snelling is an aggressive, spirited player and he's not going to want to pass up the opportunity to represent his country. But the primary concern is for his health.

August 17, 2000

Judging by some of the questions we've been seeing, both for Ask BA and on our chats, people have the Olympics on their minds. We will have plenty for you on the subject next week, including a chat Wednesday night after the Team USA roster is announced. You will find all you need to know, and probably some you don't need, right here next week. So be patient and you will be rewarded.

As for what we will cover here today, we're running the gamut, from Harmon Killebrew to Tyrell Godwin.

    As a follower of the Chicago baseball scene, it has been interesting to follow the Bobby Hill situation the last two years. The former University of Miami star was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 1999 draft and by the Cubs in the second round of the 2000 draft.

    Apparently his agent, the infamous Scott Boras, has convinced Mr. Hill that his interests are best served by holding out and plying his trade in one of the independent leagues. As best as I have been able to determine, Mr. Hill has not been burning up the independent league competition, yet Scott Boras appears adamant that his client deserves (high) first-round money. At what point do a player's skills begin to atrophy facing inferior independent league competition?

    I can't help but feel that Scott Boras has done Bobby Hill (as well as many of his other unsigned clients) a great disservice by trying to squeeze a few more dollars from major league teams while setting back his clients' career progression (possibly forever). Would you care to comment?

    Richard Wambach

I think it's going to be a while before Hill's skills "atrophy" in the independent leagues. Like maybe about 15 years. But at the rate he's going he might still be there and we could find out.

Hill's actually not doing badly at all for Newark in the Atlantic League. He ranks second in the league with 50 stolen bases and third with a .424 on-base percentage. In 92 games he's hitting .297 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs. He's also drawn 73 walks and struck out 44 times. I think what Hill has proven by playing this summer in the Atlantic League is that he'd be ready to step in at least at the Double-A level if and when he ever signs.

The puzzling thing for me is looking at a kid like this and trying to reckon his principles with reality. He's been standing on principle for more than a year now in turning down signing bonuses in excess of $1 million. Boras and Hill reportedly kept increasing their bonus demands of the White Sox, staying one step ahead of what Chicago was offering. Originally, Hill's demand was reported to be $1 million, but at the end he wanted $1.5 million from the White Sox. The White Sox reportedly had offered $1 million by that point and may have been willing to go as high as $1.25 million, but Boras told the Sox the $1.5 million was a firm demand so Hill went back in the draft. That, by the way, would have been the 19th highest bonus handed out to last year's draft class and Hill was the 66th overall pick.

Hill is still standing by his principles, refusing to play for less than he thinks he's worth, unless you want him to play for nearly nothing, which he'll gladly do to prove a point. It's somewhat paradoxical if you think about it.

If he ever comes to terms, Hill's not far from being ready for the big leagues. But he's certainly earning himself a questionable reputation in the meantime and I think he'll learn down the road that the aggravation wasn't worth $250,000. He can just be glad that he wasn't drafted by the Phillies, because their fans are just getting good at the Duracell toss after all the practice they got with J.D. Drew.

    Why did Tyrell Godwin and his agents settle for $1.2 million from the Rangers when he turned down $1.9 million from the Yankees when he was in high school. Shouldn't he have let it be known that his price tag starts in the $1.9 million to $2 million range. I know he got three years of schooling from a well-respected university, but the difference in signing bonuses is pretty big. One way of looking at it is that he paid $233,333 per year of school. Now, I had a blast in college, but those experiences weren't worth that much. Either way, he has more money then I ever had; I just don't think he was an economics major.

    Thanks,
    Jeff Tobin
    Houston, TX

Godwin is interested in a legal career and education is very important to him and his family. He went to college on an academic scholarship, not a sports scholarship. I believe his family is also rather well-to-do and I doubt the "lost" $700,000 really means that much to him other than any ego bruise it might have left. He is a semester away from completing his degree, which he will do this fall. Some people actually go to college to get an education and Godwin, who will graduate in 3 1/2 years, falls into that category.

If you're interested in reading more about Godwin, John Manuel wrote an excellent feature on him before the draft this spring. Check it out.

    What are the pros and cons of a minor league player signing with a sports agent and how do agents determine which minor league players to go after?

    Woody McKey

In most cases there aren't really cons to a minor league player signing with an agent. Most agents don't charge a fee for their services, basically investing their time and money with minor league players in the hopes that they will be rewarded down the road.

The agent will actually expend quite a bit of his own (or his company's) money buying spikes, gloves, bats, etc., for the young player as he climbs through the minor leagues. In return, when the player reaches the big leagues and finally starts bringing some money in (more than the major league minimum), the agent will then get a percentage. Before the player reaches the big leagues there's really not that much for an agent to get a cut of, unless there is substantial money from baseball card contracts, etc. (If an agent is working with a player before he signs his initial contract, the agent would, of course, get some percentage of that, too.)

Agents look for players in different ways, but they are looking first and foremost for a player who will get to the big leagues. The bottom line is that a minor league player is an expense for an agent. If there is little chance of that player reaching the major leagues, then he's not a good investment for an agent. There can be exceptions, though. Perhaps an agent doesn't have any players in the Devil Rays organization, for example. He might then take on a Devil Rays minor leaguer who doesn't seem like he's much of a prospect because that player might perhaps open some doors for him down the road. Or maybe he wants to make a lot of contacts in his home state, so he'll take a player from his home town that he might not ordinarily want to represent.

There are a couple of incentives for agents to take good care of their players, making sure they always have what they need. First, there are a lot of sharks in the business who don't mind stealing clients away from another agent. But if the player is happy, he's not likely to go anywhere. Second, it's a business where word of mouth is very important. If a player is unhappy with his agent and one of his teammates has an agent who is taking great care of him, there's a referral customer waiting to happen.

If a young player is being "recruited" by an agent, the best thing to do is probably talk to some current clients of that agent and find out what they have to say about him.

    I'd like to know if the Blue Jays 60-day DL-ing of Dewayne Wise, whom they selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Reds, is raising any rancor amongst organizational people? Doesn't selecting him and sitting him for the entire year appear to be skirting the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules?

    Won't this promote the selection of more players in the future, if you can just DL them for the entire year, you lose development time, but you get the prospect.

    John Measor
    Calgary, Alberta, Canada

You can't hide a Rule 5 player on the DL. The restrictions apply until he has spent 90 days on the active big league roster. If that doesn't happen this season, the Blue Jays will be under the same obligations as far as him being subject to waivers, etc., time next year. They are much better off to get it out of the way this year, and they will.

Wise has already put in two months on the active roster, playing sparingly from April 2 through June 6, when he was placed on the DL. If the Blue Jays activate him on September 1, when the rosters expand, he'll get another month in and have his 90 days.

    I hope you can help me. Do you know if Harmon Killebrew ever played minor league or any ball in the South? My husband says he remembers seeing him. It is something he has had me looking and looking for on the Internet.

    I appreciate your help,
    Sheila Beck

The Killer played at Charlotte in the South Atlantic League in 1956 and in Chattanooga in the Southern League in 1957-58. At Charlotte he batted .325 with 15 homers and 63 RBIs in 249 at-bats. In his first season at Chattanooga he hit .279 and led the league with 29 homers while driving in 101 runs in 519 at-bats. The following season he hit .308-17-54 at Chattanooga in 299 at-bats before moving on.

Killebrew actually made his major league debut in 1954, two years before his minor league debut. That wasn't uncommon then for top prospects because there were rules on the books that required any player signing for a bonus of more than $4,000 to be designated a bonus player and placed on the big league roster for two seasons. They could not be optioned to the minor leagues during that time, without clearing waivers. Not exactly good for a young kid's development, but they were trying to keep bonuses down. Some things never change, really.

Other future stars like Al Kaline and Sandy Koufax also signed during that rule's life and neither ever went to the minors. Killebrew didn't stick in the big leagues as a regular until 1959, though he appeared in at least nine major league games in each season from 1954-58.

August 15, 2000

Every once in a while, I'll learn about a news story by reading through the questions that get sent in for this column. Someone will ask about something and I'll scratch my head for a minute, then scramble across the Internet trying to figure out exactly what they're referring to. It's impossible to keep up with everything the moment it happens, or even days after it happens in many cases, and some things slip past. Like the Leslie Brea scandal.

    Before making his major league debut on Sunday, Leslie Brea revealed that he is 26, not 21 as previously believed. This makes the Mike Bordick trade, for which he was the centerpiece of the deal for Baltimore, seem awfully lopsided. If the Mets knew about this, would the Orioles have any recourse?

    Chris Franz
    San Francisco, CA

If it could be proven that the Mets knew about Brea's age, the Orioles might have a beef, but I'm not sure how much recourse they'd have. And I doubt the Mets would maliciously deflate the guy's age. Brea likely did that on his own when he originally signed with the Mariners in 1996, then stuck with his story for five years.

Why did he decide to tell the truth now? Maybe he figured once he made it to the big leagues it wasn't really an issue any more. Of course, he wasn't there to stay and might not be back until September.

If he's five years older than originally believed, it might almost help his immediate opportunity with the Orioles, if only so they can try to put on a happy face and prove they got something of value in the Bordick deal. But it really does make this trade look less attractive for the Orioles. Brea was the key to that deal for them, and if he's 26, that doesn't look like much of a trade any more. Not that it looked that great from the start, but it was only Mike Bordick they traded and not Mike Mussina.

    I have a couple Chicago Cub questions for you. Are Ryan Gripp and Joey Nation legit prospects? And speaking of Gripp, It sure seems that the Lansing and Daytona clubs both have a ton of errors. Are errors in the minors a statistic that matters, or are the fields just that bad? Finally, I saw where Hee Seop Choi was rated the best defensive first basemen, yet he had over a dozen errors. What gives? Thanks, I really enjoy your column.

    Philip Drinka

I'm always curious exactly what people are getting at when I get questions asking if players are legitimate prospects? What's your definition of a legitimate prospect? Are you looking for a player who will get to the big leagues? Become a major league regular? Become a perennial all-star?

Gripp and Nation both have a realistic chance to reach the big leagues and become regulars. If that fits your description of "legit" then you should be happy with these guys. Gripp is leading the Midwest League in hitting and ranks among the league leaders in home runs and RBIs. At 22, he's a little on the old side for low Class A, so it will be nice to see what he does at higher levels before getting too excited about his stats. But the Cubs like his power and his makeup. He was a third-round pick last year out of Creighton and it's a little surprising to see the Cubs move a high college draftee so slowly, but they've got Dave Kelton ahead of Gripp at Daytona and that probably has a lot to do with it. To move one, you'd have to move the other.

Nation is enjoying his finest pro season at Double-A West Tenn. He's just 21 years old, which is on the young side for Double-A. In 140 innings the lefthander has allowed just 118 hits, which is an excellent ratio. He has also struck out a Southern League-leading 149 and walked 56. He throws a good changeup and a solid fastball and curve.

As for the errors, it's not really the fields that cause a lot of errors at the lower levels of the minor leagues. These guys aren't playing on gravel. They're just young and they make mistakes. You really can't tell much about a guy's potential by looking at his error total. Derek Jeter committed 56 errors at Class A Greensboro in 1993. He turned into a pretty good defensive shortstop by the time he reached the big leagues.

    I was surprised to see that Shawn Gallagher was released by the Rangers. Was he doing bad or something? Or did the Rangers need the roster spot, because I thought he was one legit prospect. Did the Expos get the steal in getting Gallagher? Please fill me in.

    Thank You,
    Nick Lien
    San Francisco, CA

(There's that "legit prospect" again.) Gallagher wasn't exactly tearing it up at Triple-A Oklahoma, hitting .237 with six homers in 219 at-bats, but his biggest problem with the Rangers was that he wasn't their first baseman of the future. That would be Carlos Pena, who is having a strong year at Double-A Tulsa.

Everything seemed to come together for Gallagher in 1998 at Class A Charlotte, where he earned Florida State League MVP honors after hitting .308 with 26 homers and 121 RBIs. It's unusual for a player to have his peak offensive year in the FSL, because it's generally regarded as a pitchers' league. But that's exactly what has happened for Gallagher, who hasn't really come close to matching his '98 season totals since. It was the one and only season in which he walked at an acceptable rate, too. In five seasons entering this year Gallagher had drawn 152 walks. Sixty-six of those came in 1998.

Gallagher's shine began to tarnish a little early last season when he dislocated his shoulder playing paintball and missed a month. But he rebounded from that to finish at .283 with 18 homers and 78 RBIs in 452 at-bats at Tulsa. Not bad, but not quite what he did the year before, especially when you factor in that he was playing in the Texas League, which has the opposite reputation of the FSL. This season he played at both Tulsa and Oklahoma without really distinguishing himself either place.

So is he past his peak at age 23? It's tough to write someone off who is still reasonably young and has shown in the not so distant past that he could really hit. It's possible that the Expos could be well rewarded for their willingness to sign Gallagher, who is now at Double-A Harrisburg. But he's going to have to recapture the hitting vibes he had two years ago.

    I am writing to ask about [Rookie-level] Danville Braves second baseman Alejandro Machado. His stats look pretty good: 51 hits in 45 games, 37 walks as opposed to 20 strikeouts, yielding a .459 OBP. Looks like Furcal isn't the only young Braves player with extremely good patience. Also 24 stolen bases. Not bad, except he only has four extra base hits. Do you know anything about him, including his age?

    Thanks,
    Jason Hipp
    Fanwood, NJ

Machado is an 18-year-old Venezuelan who looks like he could be the next exciting leadoff prospect to work his way through the Braves system. It would be nice to see him hit with a little more pop, but he's young and should improve a little in that area as he gains strength. But he already knows how to get on base. In fact, he's reached safely 12 times in his last 19 plate appearances.

August 10, 2000

I apologize for the lateness of today's column, but I've been racking my brains all day trying to figure out where the heck Ray Knight comes up with his theories. One of his more brilliant declarations was forwarded to me today by a fellow Knight critic. Knight and Chris Berman were talking about Oakland's Adam Piatt and his Texas League triple crown of last season when Ray said, "If he can maintain that approach, he'll be a good major league hitter." No kidding. Then: "It's actually easier to hit in the major leagues than it is in Double-A. Pitchers in Double-A are wild. They're throwing the ball 95-96 but they're all over the place. Pitchers in the big leagues have much better control."

Well, Knight's hit in both places and I haven't so I guess I have to take his word for it. But it only follows from this logic that hitting in Rookie ball must be the most difficult of all. So congratulations to all of those kids out there hitting .300 in the Pioneer League. It only gets easier from here on out.

    Do you know what is the status of Ben Christensen at Double-A West Tenn? He was having a wonderful year, really dominating hitters. I expect he would have been given an opportunity at Wrigley by now if he had been healthy, given the trades and injuries to the pitching staff. I hate to see Garibay and Norton in the rotation for any length of time. Is he coming back any time soon? When he first went down, they felt he would only be out for a week or so, but now it's been a while.

    Dave King
    Louisville, Ky.

Christensen has been sidelined by shoulder tendinitis for just over a month now. It seems like any time you see a guy move to the DL with tendinitis these days you can count on him being out for a lot longer than whatever the original estimate is.

If you remember earlier in the year Josh Beckett missed about seven weeks due to tendinitis and Luis Rivera was out for almost two months. It's hard to say when Christensen will be back. It's not an injury you can diagnose like a lot of others, where something specific is injured and the human body takes X number of days or weeks to heal it. Tendinitis is simply the inflammation of a tendon or tendons and it's hard to say accurately when it shows up how long it will take for it to go away.

Considering where the Cubs are right now, and considering that Christensen began the season in A-ball, I really don't see any reason for him to set foot in Wrigley this year. It's not as though the presence of Daniel Garibay is going to cost the Cubs the World Series. Garibay actually has done a decent job for them this season and they might as well see what he can do over the next seven weeks so they can figure out if he fits in the picture next season.

    I have three Brewers questions for you. Do you see them trying to get Landon Powell? Will they move Bucky Jacobson and/or Kevin Barker from first base to the outfield next year because of Richie Sexson? Will Rod Carew take the heat at the end of the year for the offensive struggles of Jeromy Burnitz, Marquis Grissom, and Jose Hernandez?

    Jason Cress

I see the Brewers as one of the least likely teams to sign Landon Powell. The only comparable domestic free agents are 1996's group of four, and two of them--Matt White and Travis Lee--signed for $10 million or better. So set your bar in the Powell case there for starters, because that's probably where he and his advisors are looking. Whether anyone is willing to go there is another question, but someone will make young Landon very rich. The Brewers are not known for throwing that kind of money around.

Jacobsen has played the outfield in the past. In fact, he spent more time in the outfield than he did at first base last year at Huntsville, though he also spent a significant amount of time at DH. Barker has played a handful of games in the outfield and he could probably play out there if he began hitting enough to justify his presence in the lineup. But the big thing for those two is they need to show they can hit at the big league level before you worry about moving them. Just about every team is willing to move a guy around if it will keep a valuable bat in the lineup. Barker didn't get it done this year when given the opportunity and Jacobsen has yet to be tested above Double-A.

As for Carew, I'd hate to have my job security tied to the performance of Grissom and Hernandez. I'll grant you that Burnitz is having a poor season, well below his capabilities, but Grissom and Hernandez are not doing much less than one should have expected at the beginning of the season.

Hernandez is a career .251 hitter, batting .247 after a slow start. He's not a good hitter now and never has been. Despite this fact, the Brewers signed him to a three-year deal last winter and handed him the third base job after dealing away their best player in Jeff Cirillo. If Rod Carew was supposed to turn Jose Hernandez into Jeff Cirillo, he's failed miserably. But I don't think anyone short of God himself could do that, and he's apparently not a big Brewers fan.

Grissom's on-base percentages over the last three seasons were .317, .304 and .320. Those are really not good. His .280 mark this season is taking things to a new low, but he's not getting any younger and there was no reason to believe he'd suddenly get better. That leaves your two possible outcomes at him maintaining a poor level of performance or him getting worse. He got worse. I don't think that's Rod Carew's fault, necessarily. And he's certainly not as guilty as the previous administration, which signed Grissom to his ridiculous contract.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported this week that the Brewers had talked to the Dodgers about dealing Grissom to Los Angeles for Devon White, in an attempt to get out of the contract that will pay Grissom $10 million over the 2001-02 seasons. Considering how cash-strapped the Brewers are, having to pay $10 million to Grissom over the next two seasons really hurts. They'd probably be a lot better off throwing it at Landon Powell.

    Since Jason Repko appears to be out with an injury Ryan Dacey has been at shortstop and tearing up the Northwest League. He seems to have come out of nowhere. Can you shed some light on him and a status on Repko?

    Dan Peck
    Spokane

Repko has been battling hamstring problems all year and has played in just eight games for Yakima. Dacey is doing a fine job in his place, hitting .362 with 10 doubles in 105 at-bats.

Dacey was a second baseman in college, at George Washington, where he is the school's all-time hits leader. He hit .299 with two home runs and 38 RBIs in 214 at-bats as a senior this spring and signed with the Dodgers after the draft.

    In the eighth inning of the Royals-Red Sox game on Sunday, Tim Wakefield pitched to the first two Royal batters giving up a single to Carlos Febles who stole second during Johnny Damon's at-bat and moved to third on Damon's bunt single. With Febles on third and Damon on first, Wakefield was relieved by Hipolito Pichardo without having thrown a pitch to the next batter Rey Sanchez. Pichardo then proceeded to induce Sanchez to ground into a fielder's choice by grounding to third, forcing Damon out at second, with Febles scoring.

    The next batter, Mike Sweeney, singled with Sanchez reaching third base on the hit. Sanchez would subsequently score on a single by the next batter Jermaine Dye. In reviewing the box score of the game, I noticed that Wakefield was charged with the three runs in the game, two of them earned as he had given up an unearned run in the first inning.

    My question is why would the run by Sanchez be charged to Wakefield? Pichardo put Sanchez on base via the fielder's choice and not Wakefield. Can you please shed some light on way the run was charged to Wakefield and not Pichardo?

    Ed Vazquez
    Arlington, VA

If Wakefield hadn't allowed Damon to reach base, Sanchez would have been retired on the ground out instead of reaching safely on a fielder's choice. Or had the third baseman opted for the play at first on Sanchez, Damon would still have been on base, and he would have been the one to score. It wasn't Pichardo's fault that Damon reached base, so he wasn't charged with the run, even though Damon wasn't actually the one to score it.

August 8, 2000

Let's kick things off today by touching on a couple of topics from last week. First off, we detailed Shane Monahan's travels on Thursday. Well, you can add another stop to the list. Monahan made his first appearance in a Colorado Springs uniform last night. I was kind of kidding when I said on Thursday: "There's still a month left in the season, so there's plenty of time for one or two more teams." I guess I was right, though.

We also mentioned Rob Ducey Thursday, in the context of his having been traded to the Blue Jays for John Sneed. Well, now he's been traded back to the Phillies for Mickey Morandini. I don't know if that's better or worse, but I do know I'd be awfully annoyed right now if I were Rob Ducey.

    Has there been a farm team in recent memory that was as loaded with pitching prospects as the Birmingham Barons this year? They opened the season with a rotation of Matt Ginter, Josh Fogg, Mark Buehrle and Rocky Biddle. All posted ERAs under 3.00 (with Biddle's just eclipsing that after two bad outings). Then, they get Aaron Myette (third on BA's White Sox Top 10) for a few games on a rehab assignment. Buehrle got called up to the Sox, so they replaced him with 21-year-old Juan Figueroa, who was having a great season at Winston-Salem. When Figueroa and two others, including Jason Lakman (a previous top 10 ChiSox prospect) got traded to Baltimore, Jon Rauch and Dan Wright—each of whom made BA's list of top 100 prospects before last years draft—joined the rotation.

    In all that is seven pitchers, the oldest being Biddle (a '97 sandwich pick) and Fogg (a '98 third-rounder) who are 23, three of those pitchers were drafted just last year (Ginter in the first round, Wright in the second, Rauch in the third), and a draft-and-follow who started his pro career last season (Buehrle). Is there a precedent for this? Who among these have the best chance of becoming an impact player?

    In addition, has there been a team with so many good pitching prospects as the Sox have? Along with the prospects listed above, they have Jon Garland, Kip Wells, Lorenzo Barcelo, Rob Purvis, Gary Majewski, Brian West, Jason Stumm . . .

    Thanks!
    Craig Reed
    Austin, TX

We touched on the White Sox' plethora of pitching earlier in the year, but it is still amazing. As for all of the pitchers who have spent time at Birmingham this year, I don't think there is another team that can rival that.

Over the past decade there have been a few teams that have had more than their share of pitching. Here are some that jumped out at me:

1993 Nashville (AAA)/Birmingham (AA). The last White Sox pitching dynasty. Maybe this one will have more of a major league impact. Several pitchers pitched on both teams that year, which makes it hard to distinguish the two. Chicago's top four prospects—Jason Bere, James Baldwin, Scott Ruffcorn and Larry Thomas—all spent at least part of the season at Nashville, as did Johnny Ruffin (No. 6) and Rod Bolton (No. 9). Ramon Garcia and Steve Schrenk, both of whom pitched in the big leagues, also played for Nashville that year. Birmingham had Baldwin, Ruffcorn, Thomas, Steve Olsen (Sox' No. 5 prospect), Ruffin and Schrenk, as well as Luis Andujar and Brian Boehringer.

1993 Canton-Akron (AA). This team included five players on the Indians Top 10 list: Alan Embree, Paul Shuey, Paul Byrd, Dave Mlicki and Albie Lopez. In addition, unheralded Paul Abbott made 12 starts and Julian Tavarez flashed through on his rocket ride to the big leagues. He was going to be a star, for sure.

1997 Macon (A). This team finished 14 games ahead of the pack in the South Atlantic League and you would expect as much when you see a staff that included Rob Bell, Bruce Chen, Jason Marquis, Jimmy Osting, Odalis Perez and Luis Rivera. With Rivera going to the Orioles in the B.J. Surhoff deal, four of those pitchers are now gone (Chen and Osting to Philadelphia, Bell to Cincinnati) and Perez has missed the season due to injury.

Without making this a major research project, I really can't find many more teams to match the 2000 Barons as far as quality pitching depth. Of course, when one looks back at old rosters, the guys who didn't make it don't always jump out at you, so maybe there are teams out there that looked as good in their day. Perhaps five or ten years from now, Birmingham won't look so good any more if a few of these guys flame out. But for the moment, that staff looks pretty darned solid to me and I can't come up with too many equals in the last 10 years.

    I have two questions. The first is about Landon Powell. If he is declared to be a free agent what teams do you think will be the most likely contenders? The second is a question about the Yankees' young minor league shortstop Deivi Mendez. Do you have any backround info on him, such as were is he from, how much did he sign for and his potential.

    Thanks,
    Zack

Break out the list of the usual suspects when it comes to Powell. His situation could only be compared to that of a foreign signee, so look at who the teams are who are normally active in that market: the Yankees, Braves, etc. There aren't any real good rumors yet, because Powell was off-limits until Major League Baseball cleared him to sign this afternoon.

The caveat on Powell is that high school catchers are generally regarded as the biggest risk in the player development business. You're generally talking about a 4-5 year process just to get to the big leagues, and even the best young catchers can never be regarded as can't-miss guys.

Here's a list of high school catchers taken (and signed) in the first round since 1987 (overall selection in parentheses):

Bill Henderson, 1987, Tigers (20)
Tyler Houston, 1989, Braves (2)
Mike Lieberthal, 1990, Phillies (3)
Marcus Jensen, 1990, Giants (33—supp.)
Jason Kendall, 1992, Pirates (23)
Ryan Luzinski, 1992, Dodgers (32—supp.)
Paul Konerko, 1994, Dodgers (13)
Ramon Castro, 1994, Astros (17)
Mark Johnson, 1994, White Sox (26)
Ben Davis, 1995, Padres (2)
Jayson Werth, 1997, Orioles (22)
Jeff Winchester, 1998, Rockies (40—supp.)
Ryan Christianson, 1999, Mariners (11)
Scott Heard, 2000, Rangers (25)

There are a few impressive names on that list, but outside of Kendall and Lieberthal I'm not sure there's anyone I'd want to be throwing a lot of money at. Konerko has become a fine hitter, but it's a long time since he strapped on the pads. How much do you want to give Powell?

Certainly he'll get more than Mendez got. The Yankees signed Mendez last July for a $100,000 bonus. He's a 17-year-old Dominican and he's doing quite well in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .300 with two homers and 20 RBIs in 150 at-bats. He also ranks fourth in the league with 15 doubles. Just goes to show that you don't necessarily have to spend a lot to uncover some talent. Though if Mendez had been represented by his current agent, Rob Plummer, when he signed, it's a safe bet he would have commanded a much bigger bonus.

    Why do the Phils keep Nate Espy at Piedmont? Granted his injury last year stalled his development, but what more can he learn at Piedmont? He's hitting .307, leads the league in homers, extra-base hits, and is going to walk 100 times this year. I know Piedmont is having a great year, but shouldn't the Phils at least push him up to Clearwater to make up for lost time?

    Eric Holmes

If I were the farm director of the Phillies, Espy would have moved up to Clearwater at midseason. Holding Espy back would only make sense if the organization were stacked up with first base prospects and moving one would force a chain reaction. But the starting first baseman at Clearwater is Bob Van Iten, who is hitting .231 with five homers and 29 RBIs in his fifth pro season.

Espy is 22 and a little on the old side for low Class A. But it's not his fault he's still there and he's obviously shown that he shouldn't be. In addition to leading the league with 20 homers and ranking third with 76 RBIs, he leads the way with a .433 on-base percentage and is second in slugging with a .544 mark. It's time for another challenge.

    Now that the A's farm system has lost its Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 prospects to promotion and trading, is this a system that will still rank in the top five in baseball when your next evaluations are done in the winter? There are some solid prospects on the way in the upper levels (Jason Hart, Jose Ortiz) but the majority of the talent now seems concentrated in the California League and Arizona League. Also, will the rearrangement of the A-ball teams next year force the A's, as well as the Dodgers and Giants, to depart from one of the California League teams?

    Thanks,
    Sebastian Passanisi
    Santa Cruz, CA

I don't like to get much into the organizational rankings and Top 10 previews, because those things take so much time to put together it's not really possible to do them justice with a quick response here. But in the case of the A's, I think it's safe to say that they will drop off substantially when you consider the talent they have graduated to the big leagues this year.

Assuming that Barry Zito does pitch enough innings (50) to make him ineligible for next year's list, Oakland will have called Zito, Mark Mulder, Adam Piatt and Terrence Long to the big leagues and traded Jesus Colome to the Devil Rays. That's tough for any team to replace, let alone a team without a first-round pick. I think you can probably expect the A's to drop to the middle of the pack next spring when we do the farm system analyses, though that's not such a bad thing in the big picture. They're only dropping because they did their job.

The A's, Dodgers and Giants will all drop a high Class A team next year. The Dodgers have already made it known that San Bernardino will be dropped in favor of Vero Beach in the Florida State League.

August 3, 2000

I'm just sitting here trying to figure out what the funniest part of the Kevin Mitchell incident is. Is it that two months ago the Western League was touting his signing with the Sonoma County Crushers as a sign of the league's credibility and now some people want him kicked out? Is it that Solano Steelheads owner Bruce Portner got involved in an on-field incident—in which he had no place—and got hit in the face for his troubles. Or is it that this story reminds me of the story of Mitchell having to ride a bike around Indians spring training a few years ago because he was too fat? Probably the bike thing, I guess.

Regardless, you'd have to think that about does it for Mitchell's career. Baseball will tolerate a lot of drug use, and to some people it's apparently forgivable for a player to beat his wife. But when you start punching team owners, I'd guess they draw the line right about there. Thanks for the memories, Kevin.

Now for today's column we have one question for each of the six home runs Mitchell hit in the Western League this season. (Okay, it was a complete coincidence, but what's the difference.) Enjoy.

    I am attempting to make sense of the Gant for Bottenfield trade made between the Phillies and the Angels. From the Angels' perspective, this deal makes a bit of sense. From the Phillies perspective, there is much I do not understand, however. Bottenfield fits neither the short-term nor long-term needs of the Phillies, and was not moved again (as I expected) before the trade deadline. I can only think of two possible reasons for this deal from the Phillies' side. Either the Phillies hope to get a good start or two from Kent, then trade him through waivers, or else the Phillies think that Bottenfield will bring more compensation than Gant when he leaves via free agency. I know this idea sounds a little far out, and that the final compensation lists are not made until after the season, but is there any possible validity to my second theory?

    Sincerely,
    Kevin Boyle

I wouldn't look that far into it. The Phillies have been trying to move Gant for almost a year. Without him they can play Pat Burrell in left field full time. They just traded two starters, Andy Ashby and Curt Schilling, and Paul Byrd is now out for the year. Someone has to take those starts. Bottenfield isn't great, but he can take the ball every fifth day and do a decent job.

Compensation doesn't likely factor into the picture with either player, because the team would have to offer them arbitration first and it's unlikely that would happen.

    A few friends and I cannot understand why the Twins traded minor leaguer Mario Valdez to the A's for minor leaguer Dan Ardoin. The trade seems very one sided in favor of the A's. Please let me know if you have heard the Twins' reasoning for making the trade.

    Thank you,
    Josh Fuller
    Miami

It's funny. We were actually talking here the other day about this trade and wondering why the A's would make it. Valdez is having a fine season (hitting .366 with 18 homers, 85 RBIs and a .460 on-base percentage), but the last time I checked, first base was the last place the A's needed help.

Ardoin is an outstanding defensive catcher and he's hitting a little bit this year (.278-6-34 in 234 at-bats at Triple-A Sacramento). The Twins added him to the major league roster at the expense of Marcus Jensen, and he made his major league debut Wednesday, going 0-for-2 and drawing three walks.

Considering the Twins' catching situation, Ardoin could see a lot of playing time between now and the end of the season. It seems unlikely that Valdez will get much of an opportunity with the A's, and he wasn't in line for much playing time had he stayed with the Twins with David Ortiz and Doug Mientkiewicz ahead of him. From that standpoint alone I think the Twins come out ahead on this trade.

    Hi there, I know you're probably swamped with questions concerning the bigger deals, but could you possibly provide some sort of explanation (other than temporary insanity) for why Gord Ash would trade John Sneed for Rob Ducey? Sneed is a 23-year-old pitcher with a 36-6 career minor league record coming into this season plus a 2.81 career ERA and 460 strikeouts in 385 innings.

    Thanks,
    Wasif Azim

Sneed, who turned 24 in June, has struggled somewhat since reaching Double-A, but it does seem like the Phillies got the best of this deal, though I don't think it's one that the Blue Jays will rue years to come. Ducey, 35, helps deepen the Toronto bench, offering a little pop and some solid defense. But he was hitting just .189 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 106 at-bats for Philadelphia and it's a little surprising to see him fetch Sneed.

After posting a 5.08 ERA in six Double-A starts last year, Sneed has gone 5-9 with a 4.54 ERA in 21 starts this season. His secondary numbers aren't bad, with 124 hits, 56 walks and 100 strikeouts in 121 innings, but they're nowhere near what he was doing in Class A.

The scouting report on Sneed entering the season was that he threw a nice mid-90s fastball, but his slider and changeup needed work. He's reportedly lost some of the velocity from his fastball this year, though. Without significantly improving his secondary pitches, Sneed will have a tough time matching the success he found in the lower levels, where he struck out 432 and walked 114 in 357 innings. There's some thought that with his fastball--assuming he regains it--and otherwise limited arsenal he'd be a fine closer. Maybe that's where the Phillies will try him if he doesn't start dominating Double-A hitters as a starter.

Sneed was ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the Blue Jays system over the winter and he's still an intriguing prospect, though not a front-tier guy at this point. Still, if I were the Phillies, there's no doubt I'd rather have him at Double-A than Rob Ducey in the big leagues.

    What's going on with Matt Harrington's negotiations with the Rockies? Will he refuse to sign just because he doesn't want to pitch in Denver (sure couldn't blame him)? If he doesn't sign, will he go to college and wait three years, or will he play with an independent league?

    Thanks,
    Greg Herczeg

I'd be very surprised if Harrington doesn't sign with the Rockies. He was the consensus No. 1 talent in the draft and the Rockies knew what they were getting into by picking him. I don't think they'd have done it if they weren't prepared to pay him accordingly. It would be silly for Harrington to turn down the Rockies just because of their ballpark when he a) is years away from playing there, and b) has no control over who picks him next time, meaning he could wind up with a team with some other drawback that he can't control.

Harrington's college commitment is Arizona State, and I'm sure Pat Murphy would love to have him, but I doubt he'll ever suit up for the Sun Devils.

As for the independent leagues, no premium high school player has ever gone that route before, and I wouldn't expect Harrington to either. Until a test case effectively establishes the indy leagues as a way around the draft, there's no advantage to playing there as opposed to a junior college. If a player goes the juco route he'd have the same signing opportunities as an indy leaguer, but still be able to get in a full spring and a year of education.

    I just wanted to ask you why middle relievers don't get the respect they deserve. Most of the time they are left off all-star teams, not too often they even make Baseball America's Top 10 Prospect list unless you are a high draft pick. Take Orlando Woodards, for example, who is pitching in the Florida State League. The guy has awesome numbers, especially before the all-star game, but just like always for middle guys he was left off the list. I know there are more out there but I only wanted to bring attention one so I can get your opinion on why they don't get any respect.

    Thank You
    Jimmy

In most, but not all, cases, you can get some idea of what an organization thinks about a player by looking at the role in which he is used. Generally, a team will make sure the pitchers it thinks highly of prospectwise are in the starting rotation, especially at the lower levels of the minor leagues. They want these players to get a lot of innings so they can gain experience and the best way to do that is as a starter. In many cases an organization will even start out players it views as potential relievers in the rotation, just to get them more work. Middle relievers are often guys who are viewed as organizational players. They still have a chance to show what they can do, but they will always have to keep proving themselves to move up.

The deck is stacked against the minor league middle reliever, but that's not to say that they can't emerge. Teams are so desperate for pitching these days that they'd be idiotic to ignore a player who is excelling in any role. Woodards is certainly making the Blue Jays take notice with his 6-1 record and 1.98 ERA this year. In 63 2/3 innings he's allowed just 46 hits and 24 walks while striking out 53. A draft-and-follow signee in 1997 after the Jays took him in the 40th round of the '96 draft, Woodards has clearly been the most effective pitcher on the Dunedin staff this year. But he's still going to have to go out and prove himself at Double-A and Triple-A before he gets a shot at the big leagues.

The bias, if you want to call it that, against middle relievers is hardly restricted to the minor leagues. It's very prevalent in the big leagues and probably always will be. The way pitching staffs are structured these days, if a middle reliever excels for long, he'll be moved either into the starting rotation or into a more plum late-inning position in the bullpen.

It's a rare team that has enough depth to have 10-11 good pitchers and middle relief is where the first corners are cut. With so many starters not getting much beyond the fifth inning on a regular basis, middle relievers are becoming increasingly more valuable, however. In this era of instant offense, if a starter gets knocked out in the fourth inning with his team trailing by five runs, the game is still winnable--if the middle relievers can do an effective job.

    I have been unable to track Shane Monahan this year. I noticed that he was outrighted to Tacoma in March 2000 but he does not show up on their roster. Is he still in baseball and if so where and with what team?

    Thanks,
    Bob Mayes

Monahan has been all over the place this season. After starting at Triple-A Tacoma and hitting .296-1-8 in eight games, he was sent down to Double-A New Haven, then released by the Mariners. The Padres signed him in late April and assigned him to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he hit .179-0-5 in 13 games before being released in mid-May. In late May he signed with the Reds, who assigned him to Double-A Chattanooga, where he hit .250-4-16 in 25 games. Then it was on to Triple-A Louisville, where he is right now. In 17 games there he's hitting .322-3-11. There's still a month left in the season, so there's plenty of time for one or two more teams.

August 1, 2000

Wow, there were a lot of trades made in the last few days. It's almost ridiculous how many deals went down. It's always fun to see who moves at the end of July and I can't ever remember a year where this many players moved. Every time we turned around yesterday someone else was getting traded. We kept up with things pretty well, so if you missed anything, check our trade log and you'll find stories and analysis on every trade.

I'll be doing this week's Baseball America Online chat, Friday at 3 p.m. ET. So if you have questions about the deadline deals or anything else, that will be a great time for those. For now, we'll start today's column with a couple of followup questions to topics from last Thursday.

    In one of retired umpire Ron Luciano's memoirs, he talks about an attempt to test an electronic strike zone during spring training in the 1970s. It was a big machine that used radio waves to cover the plate. The Yankees were the team in the field, and Thurman Munson was catching. As Luciano remembers, Munson discovered pretty quickly that if he stuck his glove in the back of the strike zone as the ball was pitched the machine would call a strike no matter where the ball ended up. He kept doing this and chuckling to himself, nearly causing a fight with the opposing team.

    The inventors huddled, and figured out a solution. They would put a chip inside each baseball, so that the machine would pick up the ball and the ball only. But there was one stipulation, the inventors said. "Could you not hit the ball?" they asked the hitters. "The chip is pretty delicate."

    That ended that experiment.

    David J Silbey
    Bowdoin College

I received a few e-mails from people about the laser strike zone idea. I didn't really mean to say it wasn't technologically feasible. I should have been clearer in that regard. The technology has come a long way since Thurman Munson tricked the radio waves. I just don't think it would fly as far as ever being accepted by the game. And forget about the umpires. How are you going to tell these guys that you're taking away their single most important task? Good luck with that negotiation.

I know we don't get a very universal strike zone called now, but there has to be another solution. Maybe I'm not in the majority on this one, I don't know. But I still would never want the game to be officiated by laser beams. If the umpires in place are so bad that a beam of light can do a better job, find some new umpires. But keep the human element in there.

    On Thursday, Gavin from Redding, Conn., noted that Wily Mo Pena was listed on the Yankees 60-day disabled list. The only transaction I could find at any Website was "Third baseman Wily M. Pena was recalled from Yankees effective Jul 13, 2000" (from the MLB Minor League Transactions page). Nowhere on the MLB site, various transactions sites or the Yankees site is any mention of Pena being put on the Yankee's 60-day DL. This brings up the following questions:

    Since Pena was put on a 60-day ML disabled list as part of the 40-man roster, does this time count towards his service time in the majors (if and when he gets there--for purposes of arbitration, etc.)? I've never come across wording like this in any transaction before. What does it mean "was recalled from Yankees"--recalled from what if he was never on the 25 man roster? Especially since in similar cases I've seen, the major league club had to call the player up and put him on the 60-day DL so he could be removed from the 40-man roster safely (Homer Bush while in San Diego comes to mind).

    Regards,
    John Verdello
    Vernon, NJ

I don't know exactly what's up with the wording of the transaction, but the Yankees confirmed that Pena is on the major league 60-day DL. As a member of the major league 60-day DL he is entitled to major league service time. That is just another thing that makes the whole major league contract for 17-year-old players a bad idea, but it's hardly at the top of the list.

It's logical, though, that the Yankees open a spot on the 40-man for their playoff run maneuvering by shifting Pena to the 60-day DL. They feel their immediate needs offset the long-term risk of early arbitration, etc., that come with the two months of service time that Pena will pick up.

    Given that it's trade deadline time, here's a timely question I was hoping the rules gurus at BA could help me with:

    I've read in several different places that there's a rule which says that the infamous Players To Be Named Later can't have played in the same league as the team to which he's being traded. But I can recall several deals in the past in which this rule didn't apply. Is there a loophole in that rule, or is it a new rule, or is that not the real rule?

    Nieporen@alumni.princeton.edu

The rule states that a team can name a traded player at a later date, provided "the player has not been on the active list of any major league club during any part of a championship season between the date of the agreement and the date of the assignment."

This is a change from how it was worded before, when the words "major league" were absent. Maybe that came about because of interleague play or something. But now the player to be named cannot be a major leaguer, period.

I can't find any examples of this rule being violated, but my research wasn't really all that exhaustive. If anyone has a case or two that seem to conflict with this rule, send it in and we'll take a look.

    I was wondering what the status of Brayan Pena, the 18 year-old Cuban catcher whom the Braves signed for quite a bit, was? He was supposed to be at their Gulf Coast League team, but I have not been able to find any stats on him.

    Taylor Burke
    Tulsa, OK

Pena is caught up in the same bureaucratic web that ensnared Rangers signees Jorge Diaz and Osmani Garcia earlier this year. Being a Cuban refugee he's got a lot of state department paperwork that needs to be processed before he can legally work here. Right now the Braves are figuring he'll be able to participate in instructional league, but they're not optimistic about him seeing any time in the GCL season.

    When the Dodgers drafted Ben Diggins this year, everybody was talking that he was going to be a draft pick that is easy to sign. Well, he is still not signed. Is there a hold up? I was just wondering what is going on.

    Thanks,
    Nicholas Millard
    Manteca, Calif.

I don't remember anyone around here thinking that Diggins would necessarily be an easy sign. IMG, which represents Diggins and Orioles' first-rounder Beau Hale, took no part in the pre-draft negotiations that many agents participated in this season. There was a lot of talk early in the spring that Diggins had a shot to be the No. 1 choice in the draft. For him to slip to No. 17 isn't really a sign of where he truly stacked up in many eyes, and you'd have to think that IMG is taking that approach to the negotiations.

The $5.3 million contract that Joe Borchard received from the White Sox last week surely doesn't help things from the Dodgers' side of the table. But Diggins has been drafted high before, as a supplemental first-rounder two years ago, and he might not want to go through the process a third time. I bet he'll sign a 2001 contract towards the end of the summer.

    I know major league teams set aside budgeted money for drafted players. Now with Joe Borchard getting $5.3 million, do you think the White Sox will have enough money to sign Tony Richie? And do you think Tony is wanting to sign with him falling in the draft?

    Dave Sparks
    Morris, IL

It would be a surprise at this point if Richie signed with the Sox. It was looking already like he'd head to Florida State even before Borchard broke the bank. Richie was projected as a potential first-round pick before the draft and slipped to the fifth round. That's probably about the time that he made up his mind to go to school.

FSU is convinced that Richie will be there, and they need him behind the plate. John Manuel's assessment is that was catching was the weak spot of that club this spring.

Before Richie gets to campus he'll play a key role on the Team USA Junior team that heads to Edmonton for the World Junior Championship at the end of the week.


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