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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.

May 30, 2001

The draft is less than a week away, and on top of the daily coverage we'll continue to have leading up to June 5, including detailed prospect reports from hundreds of players, the top 100 list, draft-and-follow updates and features on some of the draft's best prospects, today's Ask BA will have a draft theme.

If you haven't seen our draft coverage, check it out now, but remember that you have to be a subscriber to access much of the information. Ask BA will include some free nuggets from our scouting reports, just a taste of what you can get.

    In reading the first round draft projections, I see Baseball America is predicting the Reds will again select righthander Jason Arnold from Central Florida, who was the Reds 16th round selection last year. In order for the Reds to draft him again, wouldn't Jason need to sign the same permission to re-draft form that Matt Harrington would have to sign in order for the Rockies to draft him again? If this is true, and if Jason will willing to be re-drafted by the Reds, wouldn't the Reds be better off signing Jason prior to losing his rights on May 30 and preserving their first-round pick for another player? Just curious to learn what I'm missing in this scenario.

    Erick Metzger
    Reynoldsburg, Ohio

The key to this scenario is that Arnold was not eligible to sign after returning to Central Florida to play baseball. The draft-and-follow rule applies on to junior college players, or players who don't play or sign with an Independent team, a la Matt Harrington. Harrington is unlikely to sign the consent to re-draft form, while Arnold, who is one of our top 10 seniors, is expected to.

Speaking of Arnold, here is what Jim Callis wrote about him in our regional breakdown:

Arnold was all-Trans America Athletic Conference for three consecutive years as a reliever, then did the same after moving to the rotation this season. He relied on sheer arm strength as a closer and blossomed into a more complete pitcher after changing roles. Arnold usually works at 93-95 mph and has reached as high as 97. He throws a quick slider and a palmball that serves as a changeup. A 16th-round pick of the Reds in 2000, Arnold would have signed for $60,000.

    In January you posted a draft order that included a supplemental pick after the second round to the Red Sox for the loss of Tom Gordon to the Cubs. This seemed to be correct as Gordon had been ranked a type C free agent. In your new draft order, that pick no longer appears.Is that an error or did the Red Sox lose the pick for some reason?

    Frank Allen
    Somerville, Mass.

The Red Sox will be receiving no compensation for the loss of Gordon, due to one of the three possible exceptions there are for Type C free agents. Those are:

A) If the player has 12-plus years of service.

B) if the player has elected for free agency during his career

Or,

C) If the player does not sign a major league contract before March 1.

Of course, Gordon signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in '95, hence, no pick for Boston. Julian Tavarez and Bobby Jones are the only two Type C free agents that teams were awarded sandwich picks after the second round for.

    Do you feel there are any prospects coming out of the Northeast with a chance to go top five rounds?

    Phil Hoch
    Hicksville, N.Y.

The Northeast is a vast region. You've probably already seen the Top 100, which gives you a good idea of the top prospects from that area, but here are some excerpts from their scouting reports:

•Ben Crockett. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Crockett served notice that he was a prospect to watch by sharing pitcher-of-the-year honors last summer in the Cape Cod League. He ended this season with an exclamation point, striking out 14 in a no-hitter against Dartmouth. He is compared to Yale righthander Jon Steitz, a projected first-rounder, and generally earned higher grades for better mound presence and greater polish, though Crockett's overall stuff isn't at the same level. He has command of five average pitches...

•Jon Steitz. Former big leaguer Scott Bradley says Steitz has the best stuff he's seen from an Ivy League pitcher in the four years he has been the coach at Princeton. Yale's John Stuper, another former major leaguer, concurs. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Steitz has a live arm with excellent velocity and movement on all his pitches. He is compared to Orioles righthander Scott Erickson, who once had one of the best sliders in the game. Steitz' fastball has been clocked as high as 94 mph, and an 83-85 mph slider with nasty action is his primary strikeout pitch. He also throws a curve and change...

•Justin Blood. A 6-foot-3, 215-pound lefthander, Blood has obvious physical attributes and scouts drop the name of the Mets' Al Leiter as a point of reference. Blood dominated the small-college competition in his area with a fastball that touched 91 mph and a slider that was unhittable when he had command of it. He has a curve and change but deferred mostly to his two primary pitches to gain favor with scouts. He's not as advanced as the area's other premium college arm, Maine's Rusty Tucker...

•James Johnson. Johnson was one of four or five prominent New York high school players entering the season, but he clearly separated himself from the pack. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander has a strong, well-proportioned body with sound mechanics. He was clocked up to 95 mph this spring and showed he can hold his velocity deep into games. He had one poor outing when he got unnerved with 50 scouts watching him. One start later, in front of an equal number of scouts, he tossed a no-hitter...

    I was wondering what the Brewers have planned for this year's draft. I know they're big on Seminole HS (Fla.) first baseman Casey Kotchman, but enough teams are that I'm not sure that he'll be available with the No. 12 pick.Assuming Kotchman's off the board, do the Brewers end up drafting a pitcher? Considering the Brewers needs for position players and lefty pitchers in the farm system, the first round doesn't appear to be setting up all that well for them.

    One player they might be looking at is Tulane third baseman Jake Gautreau. (I know Noah Lowry spoke well of him during the chat last Tuesday.)

    Do you know:

    1) Who else is looking at drafting Gautreau and where?

    2) Can Jake play defense well enough to stay at third base?

    Benjamin Krautkramer
    Madison, Wisc.

As a subscriber, you can log in and read the Brewers report to get assistant GM Dean Taylor's opinion, but our draft experts says that Milwaukee will pass on Kotchman and take Southern second baseman Michael Woods. Others who the Brewers are looking at include Kent State's John VanBenschoten, Marianna HS (Fla.) lefthander Alan Horne and Thunderbird HS (Ariz.) righthander Mike Jones. We have Gautreau sliding to No. 17 with the Indians, but there is plenty of interest higher in the draft (see next question). When I spoke with Tulane coach Jim Schlossnagle, he said "For some reason, there is a knock on him defensively. He's only made 15 errors in three years and played every inning of every game."

Many still think that he'll end up as a first baseman, where he played very well last summer for Team USA, which was also the turning point for Gautreau really emerging as a pure, elite hitting prospect. He hit the weights and went off for the Green Wave this spring.

May 22, 2001

The "inbox" at Ask BA looks more like an infirm& SЬS& S~S~ϟ?% SДS\p !X@p8 S$ pp”S  X SР!X@p$ \p X$ Z X$ |pI X X$ =X`J-HplCltvrIplCltp rI-HplCltpš -HplClton hasn't played since last Thursday. He is listed as day-to-day with a hand injury that is said to not be related to the wrist injury that kept him on the sidelines for all of the 2001 season. It's a concerning bump in the road, nonethelessJosh Beckett left last night's game after three innings due to tightness in his right shoulder. The team reports that it was strictly a precautionary move, and he hasn't been ruled out of making his next schedule start on Saturday, but this is the same shoulder that Beckett had shoulder tendinitis in last year... Cardinals righthander Chance Caple will miss the remainder of the season with elbow surgery... Tai-In Che has been shut down and will have season-ending shoulder surgery. The Korean lefthander has yet to make his pro debut for Boston since signing last summer for $750,000... Yankees RHPs Chien-Ming Wang (from Taiwan) is out for the season with shoulder surgery, while Todd Noel is only about a month away from returning the shoulder surgery that has prevented him from appearing in a game since last June 8, and Edison Reyonoso is progressing from the pulled groin injury he suffered in spring training and is expected to join Double-A Norwich soon... Cubs RHP Ben Christensen had successful shoulder surgery last week. Cubs assistant GM Jim Hendry said they were "optimistic" about the procedure, because there was no tear found in Christensen's rotator cuff. "There was normal fraying, and Dr. Lewis Yocum smoothed that out and tightened the capsule around his shoulder."... Cubs 1B Hee Seop Choi has been out of the Triple-A Iowa lineup with a bruised wrist he suffered on a swing. It ended his consecutive games played streak at 40, and he was scheduled to resume batting practice tomorrow... Dodgers RHP Ben Diggins hasn't started since May 3, and is currently in Vero Beach rehabbing his hamstring... The Dave Walling saga took another interesting twist when the Yankees sent pitching coordinator Rich Monteleone to visit the Yankees 1999 first-round pick in San Diego and persuade him to return to the organization, according to a report in Newsday. Walling had reportedly left Double-A Norwich for "personal reasons." He was 3-3, 5.50 between Norwich and Triple-A Columbus this year.

In more encouraging news, Cubs 2B Bobby Hill made his return to the Double-A West Tennessee lineup on Saturday from a groin injury that sidelined him for more than two weeks. Hill is hitting .320-2-14 with 14 stolen bases... Reds LHP Ty Howington made his return to the mound after having minor surgery to remove "loose bodies" from his elbow in spring training. On Saturday, Howington threw five scoreless innings for Class A Dayton in the Midwest League, allowing two hits and striking out six... Pirates RHP Bobby Bradley was expected to pitch tonight for the first time since early May. He has been out with a tender elbow, the same injury that shut him down for half of last season... Montreal LHP Josh Girdley has his first three starts under his belt after falling off of his motorcycle in the offseason. After a stint in extended spring training to build up his arm strength, the Expos are very pleased with his early progress in the Midwest League.

Enough about injuries...

    If I'm not mistaken, a team that doesn't sign their first-round pick will receive a supplemental pick in the following year. What I would like to know, is how does that work for teams (specifically the Indians) with multiple first-round picks? Is that just in effect for the team's very first pick, or all picks before No. 30?

    Essentially, what I'm wondering is if the Tribe takes a chance on, say Joe Mauer or Roscoe Crosby at No. 27, are they somewhat protected if the kid doesn't sign and goes on to play college football?

    Matt Hoagland
    Cleveland, Ohio

Yes, there is protection for teams drafting 1-30. Where the rule doesn't apply is to players drafted from the supplemental round on. The most recent example of this is the Rangers failure to sign Tyrell Godwin last year. Unfortunately, they are out of luck. Of course, this is the second time Godwin has been drafted and not signed. The Yankees did receive a pick for failing to sign him out of high school, though they weren't compensated for failing to sign Mark Prior in 1998 (who was the compensation pick for Godwin).

Imagine what would have been if the Yankees had signed Prior, or the Red Sox had signed their ninth-rounder Mark Teixeira in '98. Both were long shots to sign at the time, but how would that effect the face of the upcoming draft? In fact, what if other potential first-rounders like Notre Dame righthander Aaron Heilman (Minnesota '00), UCLA righthander Josh Karp (Atlanta '98), Stanford lefthander Mike Gosling (Minnesota '98) Arizona State lefthander Jon Switzer (Pittsburgh '98), Evansville righthander Preston Larrison (Tampa Bay '98) had already signed?

    I recently read an article online shown below...

    CLOSERS HARD TO COME BY

    "The Rockies would love to find a hard-throwing righthander to close or serve as righthanded pitcher Jose Jimenez's setup man. 'I've got a list of 15 guys, and I don't think any are available,' GM Dan O'Dowd says. But the return of righthanded pitcher Juan Acevedo will help stabilize the bullpen, and perhaps O'Dowd can use his surplus of lefties to eventually acquire a righty, such as the Mets' Rick White."

    My question is...why won't Dan O'Dowd give Craig House a shot again?

    Granted, he has 13 BB in 23.1 innings, but also 24 K's. I don't understand why the Rockies are willing to make more trades for a middle reliever when they have a guy with a big upside on the 40-man down in Colorado at least holding his own. Everybody else in Coloroado Springs has gotten a shot this year. Why not House?

    Andrew Paul
    Charlotte, N.C.

Andrew, you may have answered your own question, in part. House has shown no concept of the strike zone, something that is more than necessary when pitching in Coors. There are some mechanical concerns about House, and while the Rockies love his 100-mph fastball, they'd rather him straighten out with a full season at Triple-A. He was rushed last year on the strength of his heater, but he quickly showed that it takes more than a radar gun reading to succeed, especially if you don't throw strikes. Just yesterday, House was torched for seven runs in 1/3 of inning raising his ERA to 6.45. O'Dowd has tried twice so far to bring in relievers that are ready--Juan Acevedo and Craig Dingman--but both have been beset by injuries. That upside that you talk about in House just isn't ready to come to fruition.

    I am absolutely convinced that Bob Brenly and the Diamondbacks front office are steadfastly determined to ruin Erubiel Durazo's career.

    Have you heard of any poker games, or golf games where Durazo cleaned house for which they would be trying to get even by sabotaging his career? Maybe a joke by Erubiel directed at one of them? An argument? Did Erubiel dress up like Brenly, and give a degrading impersonation like Scott Mitchell did with Wayne Fontes?

    Mike Marinaro
    Tampa, Fla.

Let's hope Durazo didn't impersonate Fontes, Brenly or Mitchell for that matter, because what he does best is flat-out rake. The bottom line is that there is nowhere for him to play until Reggie Sanders stops sporting a 1.000-plus OPS, and Mark Grace stops hitting close to .300 and getting on base at close to a .400 clip. It's unfortunate for Durazo, and if the injury hadn't hindered his play last year, the Diamondbacks probably wouldn't have looked to Grace to play first. There is no doubt that Durazo should be playing everyday, and he would be a highly-productive offensive force.

I am absolutely convinced that they aren't trying to "ruin Erubiel Durazo's career," and I am also absolutely convinced that he can hit at any level against any pitching. The fact that they haven't traded him is actually a sign that they know what they have and don't want to lose it. He is probably not worthy of sitting on the bench all night for one plate appearance, but he is too valuable for them to lose. Right now, he has to be one of the best options anyone in the league can look to on the bench. He's already launched five pinch-hit home runs! I think there are several suitors for him--teams that need first baseman--i.e. Anaheim, Florida, Atlanta, Pittsburgh. I can't say that those teams are actively inquiring about Durazo, but he's better than whoever they are penciling in at first every night.

May 17, 2001

Our last issue, which featured Jason Kendall on the cover with the title: "Squeeze Play," focused on prospects who are faced with significant roadblocks at their position in the major leagues.

Having a surplus of talent is a nice problem to have. Listed below are some systems loaded with more than two promising prospects at a position. Not surprisingly, many organization's are stockpiled with athletic shortstops (who are typically candidates to handle position shifts).

Anaheim, shortstop: Wilmy Caceres (Triple-A), Alfredo Amezaga (Double-A), Brian Specht (high Class A), Tommy Murphy (low Class A)

Cubs, left side of the infield: Third basemen David Kelton (Double-A), Ryan Gripp (high Class A) and, of course, there is a chance the Mark Teixeira (Georgia Tech) will join this group in June.

Shortstops Nate Frese (Double-A), Luis Montanez (low Class A) and Jason Smith (Triple-A)

Cleveland, shortstop: John McDonald (Triple-A), Maicer Izturis (high Class A), Jhonny Peralta (high Class A), Hector Luna (low Class A)

Florida, first base: Nate Rolison (Triple-A, disabled list), Adrian Gonzalez (low Class A), Jason Stokes (extended spring, learning left field)

Oakland, shortstop: Mark Ellis (Triple-A), Freddie Bynum (high Class A), Oscar Salazar (Double-A), Francis Alfonseca (extended spring) and of course former shortstop Jose Ortiz

Philadelphia, shortstop: Jimmy Rollins (Majors), Anderson Machado (high Class A), Carlos Rosario (extended), Danny Gonzalez (extended)

Pittsburgh, shortstop and catcher: Jack Wilson (Triple-A), Jose Castillo (high Class A), Edwin Yan (low Class A)

J.R. House (Double-A), Ryan Doumit (low Class A), Humberto Cota (Triple-A) and first baseman/catcher Craig Wilson (Majors)

San Francisco, third base: Tony Torcato (high Class A), Lance Niekro (high Class A) and Pedro Feliz (Majors)

Like we said, it's a nice problem to have.

We'll get our questions started today with one regarding fast-rising Kent State athlete John VanBenschoten. Thanks to John Manuel for taking the time to respond.

    Had a chance to see John VanBenschoten in action this past weekend at

    Bowling Green, and he is an outstanding power hitter (with a bit of a weakness for low breaking pitches.) Also got the opportunity to witness him as a pitcher. I was impressed with the movement on his pitches and he looked to have pretty good velocity and control. He induced 11 of 15 batters faced to hit ground balls. Hypothetically where might he go in the draft if he were strictly a pitcher. And what kind of major league potential might he have on the mound.

    Craig Lammers
    Bowling Green, Ohio

I've heard VanBenschoten throws 92-93 mph off the mound, and early on there were rumblings that some scouts liked him better as a pitcher. I think his power hitting has won the day, though; I'll take this opportunity to say I still think Ben Diggins should be a hitter, not a pitcher, but I don't work for the Dodgers. If VanBenschoten were a pitcher only, he'd probably fall from the first round but still be a high pick. It's just easier to find a pitcher who's projectable and throws 92-93 mph than it is to find a five-tool player. As of 5/9/2001, VanBenschoten was leading the nation in home runs (24), ranked fifth in batting average (.451) and 11th in RBIs (64). Plus, he was 18 of 19 on stolen bases, and his arm is plus for a future in right field. I don't think pitching will be part of his equation after Kent State's season ends.

John Manuel

Senior Writer

 

    A draft question: who are the top draft-and-follows who have emerged from last years draft? In particular, anybody the Cubs may or should sign before the draft?

    David Shafer
    Hudson, Ohio

Sean Henn has emerged as the top JuCo prospect in the country. A 26th-round pick last year by the Yankees, you can bet they will sign the McLennan JC (Tx.) product before he re-enters the draft. He would likely go in the first round. The lefty can bring it in the 92-93 mph range. Lefthanders Ryan Wing, Riverside CC (Calif.), and Jake Woods, Bakersfield JC have also brought their names to the top of the JC ranks, but are not under control. Jose Bautista, a third baseman drafted by Pittsburgh last year in the 20th round, and Mark Perkins, a righty drafted in the 18th round by Toronto, are other prospects who have improved their status since last June.

As for the Cubs, righthander Rocky Evans, 35th round last year, and shortstop Lance Dawkins, 24th round, appear to be the best draf-and-follow candidates. Our draft coverage will keep you up-to-date on the latest developments with signings.

    Despite being the Phillies minor league player of the year, Marlon Byrd was rated 10th on the Phils prospect list by BA, mainly, it seems, because he was a little "old" (age-wise not experience-wise) for the Sally league. Since then the Phils have not only jumped him to AA, but are teaching him CF. Though streaky, he's shown power, speed and decent strike zone judgement. He's probably raised himself to the Phils No. 2 prospect (just behind Brett Myers). Can we expect him to appear on BAs top 100 soon?

    Eric Holmes
    New Orleans, La.

Byrd was a little older than the competition in the Sally League, but the Phillies didn't have any reservations about this guy's potential. I think after only a month, it may be a little early to jump Byrd past Brandon Duckworth, Eric Valent, Reggie Taylor, Anderson Machado, Chase Utley, Ryan Madson and Brad Baisley. I think Byrd is certainly helping his case, but nothing is based on one month of the season. That should not be taken as a slap to Byrd, but at the same time, it's hard to discount any of those prospects in front of him until they prove they are not worthy of their status. I don't think any of them have done so yet. So, I don't think we can put Byrd on the Top 100, yet. If he raises his average and OBP and continues to hit with this type of power, then we'll see...

Other Phillies on the rise include: Keith Bucktrot, Yoel Hernandez and Franklin Nunez.

 

    Why haven't the Braves come up with some Cy Young pitchers in the last 7-10 years? I mean the only pitcher that seemed to come out of their minors and do well has been Kevin Millwood. Jason Marquis, Odaliz Perez and Damian Moss are showing signs, but aren't flashy. I am just hoping Adam Wainwright, Christian Parra, Matt McClendon, Billy Sylvester et al. will make it to Turner Field and not be used as trade bait for a mediocre veteran.

    And another quick question: where will Wilson Betemit play in 2003 (expected majors debut). Furcal at SS, Giles at 2B and Chipper at 3rd leaves him in a bind. Do you see Giles maybe moving to the OF or Betemit moving to the OF first?

    Derek Staples
    Tompkinsville, Ky.
    Well, "Cy Young pitchers" don't really grow on trees, you know? Braves starters, and Randy Johnson, haven't really shared the award over the past decade, either. I don't think there has been a more successful organization at developing pitching talent over the past decade though. Right now, they have as much pitching depth as anyone brewing in the minors with the names you mentioned plus Matt Belisle, Scott Sobkowiak, Matt Butler, Tim Spooneybarger, Jung Bong, Derrick Lewis, Matt Wright, Bubba Nelson, Brett Evert, John Ennis... and the list goes on. They have also developed two dominating closers during that timespan in John Rocker and Mark Wohlers, not to mention Bruce Chen, Rob Bell and Jason Schmidt. If there is a team that has done a better job over the past 7-10 years, I'd like to know who they are.

    Provided Betemit stays on course and reaches the bigs by 2003, there are several scenarios that could change things before then. The most commonly discussed option has Chipper moving to first base or even left field. Betemit could then move to the hot corner.

    May 9, 2001

    It seems to be a recurring theme these days: "(Insert prospect's name here) Goes On Disabled List With (fill in arm-related injury here)."

    In the spirit of the Prospect Hot Sheet , which debuted yesterday, here is Ask BA's Injured Prospect Hot (or cold) Sheet:

    1. Ryan Anderson--torn labrum, lost for season
    2. Chin Hui Tsao--Tommy John surgery, lost for season
    3. Sean Burroughs--surgery to repair torn miniscus in knee, out 4-6 weeks
    4. Drew Henson--broken hand, out 4-6 weeks
    5. Antonio Perez--broken hand, missed spring training and April and has yet to play
    6. Matt Belisle--back surgery to repair a ruptured disc, out indefinitely
    7. Ben Christensen--shoulder tendinitis, but being examined by specialists
    8. Jesus Colome--hamstring injury, hasn't pitched all year
    9. Francisco Rodriguez--elbow tendinitis
    10. Gerik Baxter--Tommy John surgery, lost for season
    11. Chien Ming Wang--Shoulder surgery, lost for season
    12. Brien Taylor--what can we say? We'll always have a spot for this guy

      What's the word on Jason Stokes in the Marlins organization this year? I've been looking for any updates on him, but haven't been able to anywhere!

      Brent
      Bellingham, Wash.

    There are a lot of Jason Stokes questions these days. People are anxious to see one of the top power hitting prospects from last year's draft make his long-awaited debut. He is learning the ropes in left field on a daily basis in extended spring. Stokes has been working with Gulf Coast League hitting instructor Joe Aversa, who had previously been with Utica in the New York-Penn League.

    In related news, Florida's third-rounder last June, Rob Henkel, has yet to make his pro debut, but he is progressing in the Marlins extended camp. The UCLA-product recovered from Tommy John surgery in 1999, but shoulder stiffness has prevented him from throwing his first pro pitch. He only recently began throwing curveballs and could see regular season action by the first of June.

      Is Dennis Tankersley really this good? Or is this a case of a good pitcher pitching a level or two below where he should be? If he is this good, was the Tankersley and Cesar Saba for Ed Sprague trade the biggest rip-off of the Red Sox since Larry Andersen-Jeff Bagwell?

      Alan Greene
      Oakland, Calif.

    Tankersley is very good. Is he 0.26 ERA good? No, but who is? He's 22 and didn't have any high Class A experience prior to this season, so it's not just a simple case of him being a level or two below where he should be. That being said, he is obviously overmatching the circuit, and probably won't stay long in the California League. A miniscule ERA and a 43/5 K/BB ratio is not normal, and the Padres should test him in Double-A. Other than that, there is no disputing his pure stuff, which consists of a lively fastball in the 91-95 mph range, a slider, curve and changeup.

      Giving up Chris Reitsma would not rank among the organization's better recent moves either, but neither trade should have the same type of impact that the Bagwell deal did, and still does.

      There is always a lot of debate amongst Red Sox and Yankee fans over everything. Can you tell me who has the better system and why. Also if Tony Blanco was in the Yankee System where would he rank on your Top 10 List?

      Bob Hill
      Boonton, NJ

    I love questions like this. I remember reading one last year when Jim Callis and James Bailey rated the Red Sox Top 10 as if they had never traded away Chris Reitsma (who John Manuel tabbed as the "would-have-been No. 1 Boston prospect--even before his torrid start), Dennis Tankersley, Adam Everett, et al. Speculating is fun, it's what we do.

    If Blanco had signed with the Yankees, he would rank in the lower half of the Yankees Top 10 and, as John Manuel points out, is at a comparable stage in development as the Yankees teen phenom Deivi Mendez.

    If I had to rank the Yankees Top 10 to date, excluding prospects who have moved on to the majors, I would say it would look roughly like this:

    1. Johnson
    2. Drew Henson
    3. Jimenez
    4. Alex Graman
    5. Adrian Hernandez
    6. Deivi Mendez
    7. Erick Almonte
    8. (Blanco)
    9. Randy Keisler
    10. Juan Rivera

      I hope you're not sick of questions from Yankee fans but I'm hoping you can help on the following: Is Todd Noel in "extended spring training" and when is he due to start (at Tampa I assume)? Is Ricardo Aramboles' recent injury serious and/or related to his prior surgery? In your opinion did Brian Cashman steal Julio DePaula from the Rockies for Craig Dingman? Thanks as always for a great column!

      Patrick Murphy
      Brooklyn, NY

    Noel is another month and a half away from returning to the mound. He had shoulder surgery last summer, and the Yankees are hoping that this will finally allow him to air out what they consider to be the best fastball in the organization without pain.

    Aramboles is back throwing in Tampa, and this elbow injury was not considered threatening.

    The DePaula trade may indeed turn out to be a steal, but remember, Dan O'Dowd's deals have worked out very well for him so far in Colorado. The Rockies needed a righthanded pitcher who was ready to step into the bullpen, and the Yankees felt like they had a surplus in that area. DePaula continues to post gaudy strikeout numbers with his 92-93 mph fastball. Yankees farm director Mark Newman also noted that DePaula is effective at changing speeds and spinning his above-average breaking ball for strikes.

    Sorry for the heavy Yankees bias in today's Ask BA. It was unintentional, I swear.

    May 4, 2001

    Inspired by Willis Roberts’ perfect 4-0 April, I wanted to start today’s column by revisiting his scouting report in Baseball America after the 1996 season. Roberts was then the No. 4 prospect in the Tigers system.

    Willis Roberts:

    Strengths: Roberts consistently hits the low 90s, shows a good breaking ball and is developing a good change. He has a good feel for pitching and is very competitive.

    Weaknesses: When Roberts gets in trouble, it’s usually because his breaking ball isn’t working. He needs to improve the consistency of that pitch. He’s prone to fits of temper when things don’t go his way.

    The Future: Roberts will begin 1997 at (Double-A) Jacksonville, and the Tigers look for him to be a part of their rotation by the time they move into their new stadium.

    Between 1997 and the time the Tigers moved into Comerica, Roberts moved into a few new stadiums of his own. He made his major league debut with an uninspiring relief appearance in 1999 and was released by the Tigers in January 2000.

    He split last year between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville for the Reds. After posting a 94-68 strikeout-walk ratio, Roberts became a free agent and signed with the Orioles in the winter. The 25-year-old righty revitalized his career this winter in the Dominican, and has burst onto the scene with an overpowering array of pitches including a mid-90s fastball and a hard breaking ball.

    As Roberts became one of just a handful of rookies to ever post a perfect 4-0 in April, it goes to show that the purpose of the prospect lists is really to assess long-term potential. That's not to say the three Tigers prospects who ranked ahead of Roberts in ’97 will emerge with the same kind of potential, but you never know. Maybe the Orioles can make Mike Drumright (No. 1) and Seth Greisinger (No. 2) their next reclamation projects.

      Tigers prospect Nate Cornejo has had a dominating start at Double-A Erie. What is the scouts' take on him? Is he No. 1-2 starter material? Or is he another in the Brian Moehler mold? Also, what about this Mike Rivera guy–the catcher at Erie? He has been killing the ball. What is your take on his ceiling?

      Sean Craven
      Farmington, Mich.

    The Tigers think Cornejo is coming into his own. They drafted him in the second round in 1998, and he likely would have been a first-round pick if not for bad knees that twice required surgery before the draft. They think of him as much more of a power pitcher than a Brian Moehler type, and compare him to Kevin Brown instead because he throws his fastball in the 93 mph range with heavy sink.

    Cornejo is developing into a strong groundball pitcher, recording groundouts at a nearly 3-1 ratio over flyouts. Comparing tall and projectable righthanders with hard sinkers to Brown has become about as common as comparing young lefties to Tom Glavine. Both comparisons are rarely achieved. I don’t think Cornejo will ever be as overpowering as Brown, but he looks like he's figuring some things out--like changing speeds and improving his breaking stuff--and doing so as a 21-year-old in Double-A. He’s always demonstrated pretty good control, but none of his ratios (hits per inning; strikeouts-walks; strikeouts per inning) have ever been overwhelming.

    With his hot start, Rivera has been a big surprise. He’s a 24-year-old guy with a .269 career average, after hitting .253 at three stops last year. He spent the majority of last season in the Florida State League, his second straight there. This isn’t his first taste of Double-A, either. The Puerto Rican catcher has 46 games there in the past two seasons. He’s hit for power in the past but never showed much plate discipline (career .309 on-base percentage). He’s coming back to earth after carrying a .400 average three weeks into the season. In 246 career Double-A at-bats, Rivera holds a .246 average. What I'm trying to say is that his ceiling isn't very high, and I 'not even sure he should be regarded as an everyday catching prospect.

      There seems to be oodles of pitching talent emanating from the Astros farm system--some of which is already spilling out at the major league level. Roy Oswalt appears to be next in line to Wade Miller, but I am curious how you would rank the other many talented Astros arms in Double-A. With the likes of Tim Redding, Carlos Hernandez, Wilfredo Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and Greg Miller all scorching the Texas League, which of these players has the highest upside and which is on the fastest track to the majors?

      Doug Coward

      Port St. Lucie, Fla.

    Astros pitching prospects are a popular topic these days, and for good reason. At this point, I would rank the arms in the system like this:

    1. Oswalt
    2. Redding
    3. Rodriguez
    4. Lidge
    5. Ryan Jamison
    6. Rob Stiehl
    7. Hernandez
    8. Mike Nannini
    9. Miller

    10. Tony McKnight

    This doesn’t even include Jimmy Barrett, Chad Qualls, Tony Pluta, Cory Doyne, Rodrigo Rosario or Juan Campos (who has posted a 31-1 strikeout-walk ratio this year).

    Wade Miller is filthy, by the way. Here’s a guy who doesn’t get the attention he deserves for having an overpowering arsenal made up of a 96-97 mph fastball with movement and a power breaking ball that he throws for strikes. Needless to say, the Astros appear to be in pretty good shape.

      The Indians were ranked 25th in your preseason organizational talent ratings, and now you've tapped them 29th in hitting prospects. Yet the Tribe's two Class A teams are off to sizzling starts. Lots of pitchers at Columbus and Kinston are putting up good numbers, although few of them made your prospects list. How would you assess prospects on the Redstixx and K-Tribe such as Shane Wallace, Alex Herrera and Jason Davis?

      Elliot Legow
      Youngstown, Ohio

    It’s funny, some of the better prospects who are on those two teams are really struggling: Jorge Moreno, Jhonny Peralta, Maicer Izturis, Sean Swedlow and Corey Smith. The K-Tribe is getting production from Nate Grindell, who has good power, but is 24, and Simon Pond, another 24-year-old journeyman. In Columbus (or C-Bus as Jim Rome would say), they are getting contributions from prospects like Ryan Church, Willy Taveras and 19-year-old Hector Luna.

    As you mentioned, the pitching has been the key at both of these levels. Both clubs rank second in their leagues in ERA. Of the three arms you asked about, I have seen only Wallace. He’s 21 and has been impressive this year. He has good command of a complete repertoire. The lefthander throws in the upper 80s, and he succeeds by working both sides of the plate. He’s tough on lefties and righties alike. Lefties have hit just .111 against him this year, but he can give righthanders fits with his running two-seamers and darting sliders.

    Thanks to Kinston Indians announcer Robert Portnoy, who is a solid prospect in his own right, I can tell you a little bit about Herrera. "He’s overpowering," Portnoy said of the 5-foot-11 lefthander. Herrera brings his fastball in the 91-93 mph range. "He throws a wipeout slider." So far, Herrera has wiped out 30 hitters in 21 innings, with a microscopic 0.43 ERA. He should emerge on the prospect radar screen in a hurry.

    May 2, 2001

    There was a lot of response from the last column outlining the worst five systems in terms of hitting talent. Mostly from depressed Cardinals fans, and surprisingly not many objections. By the way, I should have given the Angels their due for an absence of hitting talent, too. The Angels do have a plentiful system when it comes to arms, but how does pitching depth or lack thereof stack up around the minors?

      Thanks for commenting on the Cardinals' lack of hitting prospects. The pitching situation seems better, though. How do you rank the system's top pitching prospects--Bud Smith, Chad Hutchinson, Nick Stocks, Blake Williams, Jim Journell and Chris Narveson? I guess Josh Pearce belongs on that list, based on his performance so far at Double-A New Haven. How would you rank the Cards' pitching prospects against the other 29 organizations?

      Lou Schuler
      Allentown, Pa.

    A quick glance through our organizational talent rankings reveals that one of the strengths in the Cardinals system is righthanded pitching. You also could have included B.R. Cook, Chance Caple, Clint Weibl, Tommy John surgery righthander Cristobal Correa and even John Novinsky. Based on that depth, St. Louis would rank somwhere in the middle tier. Teams not so fortunate include Arizona, Oakland, Toronto, Detroit and Minnesota.

    The Diamondbacks have been beset by injuries to their top hopefuls over the last year (John Patterson, Jeremy Ward, Nick Bierbrodt, Casey Daigle and Andrew Good). Ward is working his way back now as the closer in Double-A. It's hard to criticize the Athletics after producing Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, while trading Jesus Colome for Jim Mecir, but there's little left on the farm in the way of pitching. Justin Miller and Mario Ramos lead the pack but don't resemble the frontline pitching prospects that have preceded them in the pipeline.

    The Blue Jays are in need of upper-level pitching. Sending Roy Halladay all the way back to the high Class A Florida State League was tough to swallow, but they are getting some good performances from Brandon Lyon (who's making a huge leap from the short-season New York-Penn League), Scott Cassidy and Orlando Woodwards in Double-A. We'll reserve judgment for now.

    The Tigers' weakness is frontline pitching. Nate Cornejo and Shane Loux have progressed, and the club is banking on last year's first-round pick Matt Wheatland to develop. The system isn't necessarily lacking depth, but none of their top young arms possesses the profile of future ace. Beyond Adam Johnson and Matt Kinney, the Twins' picture gets a little grim. Ryan Mills still is trying to rediscover his college mastery. Brad Thomas and Juan Rincon provide hope down the road.

      Keith Bucktrot was a third-round pick in 2000 by the Phillies. He has pitched a no-hitter and then had another start where he took a no-hitter into the ninth. He wasn't on the Top 15 Prospects list, so I'm wondering what scouts' take on him is.

      Will Clark
      Philadelphia

    Unfortunately, the scouts' take on him prior to getting drafted last year was somewhat skewed by his off-field issues. A perceived attitude problem had some teams looking the other way, but the Phillies gambled and are reaping the benefits of his considerable upside now. Also highly regarded as an outfielder, he has been sharp on and off the field since signing. His performance has him skyrocketing on the Phillies depth chart this year. He was No. 22 on the Phillies Top 30 list, and this is what I wrote about him at the time: "With Bucktrot's lively arm and projectable 6-foot-3 frame, he is a candidate to have a breakthrough season. The Phillies think he can handle the South Atlantic League."

      It seems Ben Christensen's innings pitched have been stuck on 16 for a while for the Cubs' Double-A affiliate. What gives? Is he hurt again? If he comes back and performs well, any chance of a callup this year?

      Paul Nykaza
      Chicago

    Christensen officially was placed on the disabled list last week after missing a start with a sore shoulder. The latest diagnosis was a return of the shoulder tendinitis that plagued him last year. He was scheduled to meet with doctors in Chicago because rest wasn't improving the problem on its own. If he performs well and is healthy, then of course there's a chance for a callup later in the season. But, at this point, that's a big "if."

    The next question comes from Stanford's junior lefthander Mike Gosling. Fresh off of a masterful shutout of California on Sunday, Mike skipped the celebrating and ran back to his computer and Ask BA to find out about one of his former teammates. Mike is one of the top college lefthanders for the 2001 draft and will be featured in the College West section of our next issue.

      Craig Thompson had a great season last year for the Idaho Falls Padres, but I haven't been able to locate his numbers anywhere this year. Do we have any idea where he is or what he's doing? Thanks for the help.

      Mike Gosling
      Stanford, Calif.

    Thompson injured his hand during the offseason working out. It set him back to the point that he didn't begin hitting against live pitching until this week. According to the Padres, he's still going to be out for a while, but they do have him on a throwing progression and are anxious to see what he can do in a full-season league. Thompson (.358-10-62) dominated the Rookie-level Pioneer League last year after he was drafted in the 23rd round.


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