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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.

October 31, 2000

We've received nearly as many questions on free agents as there are free agents this year. In fact, after today's queries, I'm not sure there's much more that can be asked about free agents. But I'm sure someone will come up with something.

We should see the player rankings that come from the Elias Sports Bureau some time this week. I'm sure those will be of interest to many, and we'll try to run the list when we get that information. But for now, here's today's Ask BA.

    As an avid Orioles fan, the only thing I have to worry about is the upcoming amateur draft. It is my understanding that the Orioles will keep the No. 7 pick no matter what. However, my question is what happens if Mike Mussina leaves (a sure Type A player) and the Orioles sign another Type A player in the offseason? Would the Orioles be responsible for giving the pick awarded to them from Mussina right back to the team that the Orioles took the hypothetical Type A player from?

    Blake Smith
    Littlestown, Penn.

Assuming the Orioles lose Mussina as a free agent, the pick they receive as compensation is theirs to keep regardless of whether they sign another free agent. They also will keep a supplemental first-round pick regardless of whether they sign another Type A free agent.

This is one of the big weaknesses of the free-agent compensation system, in my opinion. Last winter, the Mets lost a Type A free agent first baseman (John Olerud) and signed a Type A free agent first baseman (Todd Zeile). Seems to me like that should cancel out as far as the supplemental picks go. But instead, each team got an extra supplemental first-round pick.

If you want to see an even more ridiculous case, go back to the winter of 1998, when the Orioles and Rangers basically traded Type A first basemen Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro. Never mind that Palmeiro is much better; they both ranked as Type A players at the time. The Rangers surrendered the 21st pick in the draft to the Orioles, and the Orioles, who signed four Type A players, surrendered the 156th pick to the Rangers. Each team also got a supplemental first-round pick, with the Rangers picking 47th and the Orioles 50th.

The Orioles also made a similar swap with the Cardinals, signing Type A free agent Delino DeShields and losing Type A free agent Eric Davis. Baltimore received the 18th pick in the draft courtesy of the Cardinals and handed over the 126th pick. The Orioles picked up the 44th pick and the Cardinals earned the 46th pick as supplemental first-round compensation.

This system is ridiculous. The first step I'd take in fixing it would be to eliminate supplemental first-round picks for teams that sign as many players as they lose. So if a team signs two Type A free agents and loses two Type A free agents, they get zero supplemental first-rounders. If they sign two and lose three, they get one, etc.

As for the compensation from one team to another, I'd eliminate it in cases where teams are basically trading free agents. So in the 1998 cases ('99 draft) of the Orioles and Rangers and Orioles and Cardinals, no picks would change hands.

The current system tends to reward teams that are active in the free-agent market while punishing all the teams that aren't, by pushing them all down in the draft while the cream of the second-round crop is gobbled up by those with the ill-gotten supplemental first-round picks.

    With the World Series over, the market is open for player movement. I've got a number of questions about free agents:

    1. What window of opportunity is there for signing a free agent? When does the club have to offer arbitration? How long does the player have to decide whether he chooses to accept or reject it?

    2. How does arbitration work? For example, Reggie Sanders made $3.7 million last season. If he is offered arbitration, can the club offer any amount for his services, or are they subject to an arbitrator’s decision if he does not sign? Is there a limit to a decrease in a salary arbitrator’s decision, like 10 percent of Sanders last salary?

    3. If a player is offered arbitration and the player accepts, approximately when does the player have the case determined? Does this mean he can't take offers from other clubs during this time?

    4. When are the free agent classifications (Type A, B and C) determined by MLB?

    Kenneth E. Watson Jr.
    Santa Rosa, Calif.

1. Free agents are eligible to re-sign with their team any time before Jan. 8. After that they only can sign with other teams. There isn't really a window, because they can sign any time. Most of the deals happen in December or early January. This year teams must offer arbitration by Dec. 7 and players have until Dec. 19 to accept it.

2. If a player is offered arbitration and accepts it, he no longer is a free agent. He’ll return to his team for the next season, with an arbitrator setting his salary. There’s no limit, but if the team sets the salary unreasonably low, the arbitrator will probably take the number proposed by the player. The arbitrator must choose either the salary proposed by the team or the one proposed by the player. There’s no middle ground.

3. Arbitration cases are generally held in February. Once a player accepts arbitration, he can’t negotiate with any other team.

4. The player rankings will be available sometime this week.

    I have been reading the minor league transactions lately, and was surprised the Indians released outfielders Javier Hernandez and Wilson Rodriguez. They had great seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League and Dominican Summer League, respectively, in 1999. Why did the Indians show little patience with a couple of 20-year-old prospects? I know they didn't have good seasons, but Hernandez could develop into a nice leadoff man, and Rodriguez has 25 home-run potential.

    Secondly, why do some players put up good numbers in the DSL and VSL, but can't get it done after being promoted? Is it that big of a jump from the summer leagues to Rookie or A ball?

    Devin Mackey
    Westerville, Ohio

Hernandez and Rodriguez had good '99 seasons (I wouldn't go as far as "great," but they put up some nice-looking numbers.) Hernandez hit .298 with eight homers and 39 RBIs in 188 at-bats in the VSL and Rodriguez hit .305-10-64 in 259 at-bats in the DSL. Keep in mind that 10 hitters in the DSL finished at better than .350, so .305 is impressive, but there's plenty of hitting there.

I saw Hernandez quite a bit this summer at Rookie-level Burlington. He's a fun little guy to watch, but you don't walk away thinking, "That guy's a major leaguer waiting to happen." You walk away thinking, "That little guy plays hard and is fun to watch. Someday he might make it to Double-A as a reward for his effort."

Someday doesn't appear as it will come with the Indians organization, because they let him go. Hernandez is generously listed at 5-foot-8, but in reality he's closer to 5-foot-6. He doesn't grade out high in any of the tools and the Indians apparently came to the conclusion he wasn't going to be a big leaguer. I didn't have a chance to see Rodriguez play, but the Indians seem to have made a similar decision in his case.

You have to keep in mind that major league teams are only allowed a certain number of visas to bring foreign players to the United States each year. Once they decide a player isn't major league timber, there's not a lot of incentive for them to keep giving one of their visas to him.

The same consideration often factors in to some of the better numbers you see in the DSL and VSL. With each team limited in the number of guys they can send to the States, there are some players who spend a few years in the DSL and VSL waiting for an opening. As they wait, they get older than some of the other players in the league. As they get older, they get a little better in comparison to the league. That's one reason they post much better numbers there than they do once they jump to the U.S. leagues.

There are a lot of other factors, though. The competition is better here. Throughout the minor leagues at every level, more players fall along the wayside because they can't make the jump. There is also a big culture-shock factor for a lot of Latin players who have grown up in a much different world than the one they experience here. Homesickness isn't unusual at all, and it's certainly understandable considering these kids are 17-20 years old and far removed from their families.

Then you also have to factor in the other things that all minor leaguers face, regardless of where they grew up. If it were easy, we'd all be millionaires. But it's not.

October 26, 2000

I have to clarify something about the minor league free agent question discussed on Tuesday. Most players actually need more than six years to achieve free agency.

Dodgers scouting director Matt Slater explains the rule like this: "The name six-year free agent comes from six renewable years on his contract, thus a total of seven years in the minor leagues."

So six years after a minor league player's first season ends, he's eligible for free agency, assuming he hasn't been added to the 40-man roster, etc. That means the players who have become minor league free agents for the first-time this year are those who began playing in 1994. We touched on that when we posted the list, highlighting the draft class of '94, but didn't specifically state the rule. Hope that clears it up for everyone.

Now for a followup on major league free agency.

    If a team signs more than one Type A or Type B free agent, how is it determined which team receives which draft choice as compensation? If the Braves sign both Mike Hampton and Alex Rodriguez, which team is awarded the first-round pick?

    Bob Wagner
    Alameda, Calif.

When a team signs more than one Type A or Type B free agent, their higher pick will go to the team that lost the higher-ranked player. While the rankings compare players to others at their position, each player is given an overall number, which can be stacked up against any other player at any position.

Last year, for example, the Mariners signed three Type A free agents. They lost their first-round pick to the Mets for John Olerud (87.143 ranking), their second-rounder to the Rangers for Aaron Sele (86.240) and their third-rounder to the Orioles for Arthur Rhodes (65.564).

All players are factored in to the ranking system, not just the free agents. Last year, Dodgers righthander Kevin Brown was the No. 1 player in the ranking system, with a 98.232 score (on a 100 scale). He was followed by Albert Belle (96.533), Pedro Martinez (96.512), Bernie Williams (96.267) and Randy Johnson (96.212). I'm going to bet that Pedro moves into the top spot this year. I guess we'll find out in about a week or so.

I'm going to guess that Rodriguez is going to grade out higher than Hampton, so under the proposed scenario, the Mariners would get the Braves' first-round pick and the Mets would get their second-rounder. Of course, I still think the Mariners are going to keep A-Rod, so you Braves, Mets and other fans out there who keep eyeing him so lustily--leave him alone. He ain't going anywhere, I hope. I'm not the only hopeful Mariners fan around, either. Some folks with too much time on their hands have put together a Website and CD trying to convince the shortstop to stick around. The site is called stay-rod.com, in case you want to check it out for yourself.

    I have a question regarding the Peoria Javelinas roster. On the daily stats on your Website there is a player listed as "Washington, Enricquo." However, if you follow the links from your site to the rosters (updated October 3) there is no mention of him on the roster. Is this Rico Washington of the Pirates? I seem to remember that the Bucs were going to include him in the AFL but then they made some last-minute changes and I thought that he got pulled. If this is Rico, what are his chances of making the majors? I know he was rated as a pretty good prospect last year but he struggled at Double-A this year.

    James Patrick
    Fort Lauderdale

Rico Washington's full name is actually "Enrico." That's the same player. He went 2-for-3 with three RBIs in a 4-1 win over Grand Canyon yesterday, by the way, and is now hitting .438 in 16 at-bats for Peoria.

Washington didn't hit at Altoona the way he had in the lower minors, but I wouldn't say his year was so disappointing. He still put up a solid walk-strikeout ratio and the rest of his numbers were respectable across the board. If I were the Pirates, I'd send him back to Altoona to start the 2001 season and let him get hot there before moving him up. He's still on track, and given that most of the talent in the Pirates system is at the lower levels, he's one of the top talents within striking distance of Pittsburgh.

    Earlier this fall Baseball America suggested this year's Team USA could be considered the best ever. Everyone knows about Mark Teixeira and even a few weeks ago you answered a question about Team USA's Ryan Howard. My question is, how does Jake Gautreau grade out? after all he received the team's best hitter award, which is a great accomplishment especially playing with guys like Xavier Nady, Patrick Boyd and Teixeira. But as I went to his team's Website I noticed he is not that tall. Where do you see him playing as far as pro ball is concerned?

    Jay Burgess
    Strawberry, Ariz.

Now pinch-hitting, John Manuel, whose success rate in the role far exceeds that of anyone on the Mets bench at the moment.

    Gautreau, one of the top college power hitters to watch for in 2001, is a short corner infielder, 5-foot-11, which doesn't profile well for a first baseman. His footwork is a little rough at third base, but he has the hands and glove for it, and enough arm for third. He also looks to have the power to hit there, tying for the Team USA lead this summer while playing with a wood bat, hitting .348-4-20 in 92 at-bats. That's pretty consistent with what he did in the Cape Cod League in '99, when he hit .286-2-20 in 84 at-bats. BA's friend on the Cape, the late great John Claffey, wrote of Gautreau: "Watch this kid. He can hit." He's going to have to hit to overcome his perceived defensive and tools shortcomings, but if he gets stronger and hits for power, he'll get his chance.

October 24, 2000

I received a couple of interesting followups on the subject of steroids after Thursday's column. One came from a minor leaguer who requested he not be identified. Here's what he had to say:

    I wonder why the union is against steroid testing. I know they try to protect the players but it's a joke. If, say, only 25 percent of the guys in the majors use steroids, then does that not seem to be a problem for the other 75 percent who could be losing money and service time to those who have the benefits of using illegal substances? Obviously the number of users is higher, most probably during the offseason, but all of us players know who the users or those who have used are. As Chad Curtis said, let's take a vote in the union and then we'll see. But it is not fair to those who are not cheating to continue to allow this to go on.

Another reader suggested that the union won't be spurred to do anything to protect its players from the harm of steroids until it's too late. Does baseball need a Lyle Alzado to put a human face on the problem? Perhaps it does, because the wink-and-nod policy of today isn't helping anyone, yet no one seems concerned enough about the issue to force change.

I'd love to see a poll of major league union members as to their opinion on testing. But the union isn't likely to let that occur.

Anyway, let's move on to today's questions.

    I have a question about the minor league players who qualify for free agency. Sometimes referred to as "six-year minor league free agents," the column [included with the list of free agents] indicates some do not have six years of service. Further, many players with six years of service are not listed. What are the rules regarding minor league free agency? I thought I understood them but apparently I do not.

    Gary W. Listen
    Oklahoma City

After six years with an organization, a minor leaguer who is not on the 40-man roster is eligible for minor league free agency. (If a player is on the 40-man, this doesn't apply.)

There are different rules for players who get released from their first organization before playing six years. When they sign with their new team, that team can choose to sign them for however many years they have left before they serve out their sixth season.

For example, a player gets released by the Expos after his second season. He then signs with the Astros, who have the option to lock him up for one, two, three or four years. If they aren't too sure about him and just want to see what he can do, they will likely sign him for one year. This is pretty common. After that he becomes a minor league free agent and if the team likes him they'll probably re-sign him.

    I know BA has already reported on several occasions that there has been no movement on the Cubs-Scott Boras-Bobby Hill Bermuda Triangle of stubbornness, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on a rumor I've heard. Several people, though not citing any sources, have indicated that Hill and the Cubs are actually very close on a deal, but given this late juncture are holding off on making any announcements or signing anything to try to buy some wiggle room on the 40-man roster.

    Admittedly, my knowledge on roster rules ranks somewhere between the specifics of the balk rule and free-agent compensation, but as I understand it, the deal would probably be a major league deal akin to that given to Xavier Nady. However, if I'm not mistaken, the Rule 5 draft happens sometime in December, right? I've heard that the Cubs and Boras will hold off on making the deal official until after the Rule 5 draft, buying themselves another spot on the 40-man roster, then adding Hill and safely keeping whoever would benefit from Hill's late signing.

    Is this plausible? If so, is this something that's only a bit unethical, or would it be something the commissioner's office would slam them on? If I have the scenario right, it certainly seems to be a smart move, given the current timetable, Hill's advanced development, etc., it would seem that there's little to gain from signing the deal now versus waiting a couple months.

    Shannon Jaronik
    Chicago

Actually, that all makes a lot of sense. Cubs farm director Jim Hendry has stated he's confident the Cubs will sign Hill. Perhaps it's just a matter of time until it all becomes official.

I wouldn't even paint it as unethical. It's certainly not unprecedented. Teams often do the same thing with major league free agents, agreeing to terms but not announcing the signing until after the Rule 5 draft in mid-December. If the commissioner's office were going to get upset about this, it's had plenty of chances already.

I would not be surprised at all to see the Cubs announce the signing of Hill in the weeks before Christmas. And hallelujah when they do end the sorry saga of his two-year holdout.

    Although the Cardinals are not all that deep in position players throughout their minor league system, they are deep in starting pitching. Which brings me to righthander Jim Journell, the Cardinals' fourth-round pick in 1999. I had heard that he would have been a lock for a top spot if it had not been for him having Tommy John surgery just days before the draft. I had also heard that he is similar to Kris Benson with his velocity and control. My question to you is whether he will be a starter or a closer for the Cards. He was pitching out of the pen this year and had an ERA of under 2.00. The Cards could use a good power pitcher as a closer, but I would love to see this kid as a starter. What do you think?

    Chadwick
    St. Louis

Journell was an outstanding closer in college and I haven't heard any plans to move him to the rotation. Often teams move a reliever to the rotation in the minors to get him more innings, but the Cardinals don’t generally do that. They have had a lot of pitchers rack up a lot of saves in the minors. Of course, most of them haven't done much if anything in the big leagues.

Journell is a sidearmer and this would seem to be a bigger advantage for a reliever. Most sidearmers in the game are relievers, and the good ones have a tremendous advantage of coming into a game and giving batters a completely different look. Unlike most sidearmers, however, Journell throws in the mid-90s when healthy. I think he's got a chance to become an outstanding reliever for the Cardinals, and if I were them I would keep him in the pen.

    There is this guy, Carlos Valderrama, who played for Class A Bakersfield in the Giants organization this summer. He hit .315 with 21 doubles and 13 home runs and stole 54 bases. What's so impressive is his mix of power and speed. He hits for a good average, hit a decent amount of homers, and displays great speed. Is this guy considered a top prospect? Do you think he'll make the jump to Triple-A and then make the Giants in 2002?

    Jeff Lynott
    San Francisco

Valderrama did have something of a breakout year this year, posting career bests in every category. Coming into the 2000 season he was a .270 hitter with five home runs and 77 RBIs in five pro seasons, including two in the Dominican Summer League.

At 22 he wasn't particularly old for the California League, though he was overshadowed there by other players and didn't find a spot either on the league's all-star team or our Top 20 Prospects list. The Giants aren't especially deep in outfielders, so Valderrama is one of their best prospects at that position by default.

Chris Magruder, who was ranked as the Giants' No. 5 prospect last winter, hit .282 with four homers and 18 stolen bases while repeating Double-A this year. Teammate Doug Clark, the No. 6 prospect in the system, hit .272 with 10 homers and 75 RBIs and saw a promising walk-strikeout ratio in 1999 move in the wrong direction in 2000. They were the only outfielders ranked among the top 15 prospects in the system last winter, so there's not much standing in Valderrama's way.

I don't see him jumping to Triple-A, considering it has taken him six years to get through Class A. He'll probably start 2001 at Double-A Shreveport and it will be a big season for him.

Incidentally, Valderrama is off to a solid start for Occidente in the Venezuelan League, with three home runs to rank second in the league after a week of action.

October 19, 2000

I was surfing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution site yesterday and found a poll they were running. The question was "Will you watch a Subway Series?" Apparently it won't go over big in Atlanta, as 68 percent of respondents voted "No." There was no indication of how many times John Rocker voted.

I have to admit I'm not that excited about it, either. Maybe I'm just disappointed because my Mariners didn't make it. So close, but yet so far. Now they face a difficult offseason, which will be a painful one if Alex Rodriguez leaves as a free agent. At least there's some hope for the black hole in left field, with the news that Ichiro Suzuki will play in the major leagues next season. I'll be surprised if he signs with anyone other than the Mariners.

Should I be excited about that? I think so, but not everyone agrees . . .

    Once again there is speculation that Ichiro Suzuki is coming to the major leagues. My question is, why is a player whose performance is routinely matched by foreign Four-A players getting so much attention?

    Take this year as an example. His OPS was .999. In Japan, Sherman Obando's was 1.052, Frank Bolick's was 1.000, Nigel Wilson's was .972, and Roberto Petagine's was 1.045. If Frank Bolick were looking to sign with a major league team this year, would teams be clambering to bid millions for his services? Also, why do I keep reading that the pitching in Japan is comparable to the pitching in the major leagues? Given their performance in the Olympics and considering that Nate Minchey, Melvin Bunch and Darrell May were among the best pitchers in the Japanese leagues this year, this seems ridiculous.

    As a related question, why are Cuban players so overrated? It should now be clear that "superstars" like Orestes Kindelan and Omar Linares have permanently had their baseball growths stunted by not being allowed to play against the best available competition. They never will surpass the level of play of the Ernie Youngs and Craig Paquettes of the baseball world. Pitchers seem to be able to develop more fully without facing the best available competition, but when I read on this site that Jose Contreras would command Kevin Brown type of money, I have to laugh. No matter how many times the Cuban national team loses to minor leaguers, it seems we still must hear how great they all are.

    Mike Sullivan
    Bridgewater, N.J.

There are a few issues in this e-mail; some of them are valid. The problem is, you can't dismiss individuals based on a generalization of the ability of their entire league (or race).

I don't think it's a slam dunk that Ichiro will come to the United State and be a superstar. His game is not really the power game that exists in the big leagues today. But when a guy wins seven batting titles in a row and is widely regarded as the best player in the entire country of Japan, I think he's worth taking a shot on.

It's true that there have been several players who haven't broken through here than have gone to Japan and posted tremendous numbers. But that doesn't invalidate what the top Japanese players are doing over there. That goes for pitching as well. I wouldn't go as far as saying the pitching in Japan is comparable to that in the United States. There are some pitchers, however, who have come here and been quite successful. Hideo Nomo and Kazuhiro Sasaki, for example. So there are definitely major league-caliber pitchers there.

As for the Cubans, I agree major league teams seem to be hypnotized by the word "Cuban." They have showed a willingness to overpay in certain situations, and a lot of that may be based on the mystique of Cuban baseball. I'm not going to argue that Jose Contreras should get Kevin Brown money, but it's possible he would if he defected. (Then again, should Kevin Brown be getting Kevin Brown money?)

Orestes Kindelan is on the downside of his career. That doesn't negate what he accomplished in his prime. In the 1996 Olympics, at the age of 31, Kindelan hit .442 with nine home runs and 18 RBIs in 43 at-bats. Omar Linares, then 28, hit .476 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs in 42 at-bats. In an average game they each hit a homer and drove in two runs. Do you want more than that? To say they will never surpass the level of play of the Ernie Youngs and Craig Paquettes of the baseball world is a complete joke. They did. And they sustained that level of play for years. Linares could step in and start at third base for a number of major league teams if he defected this winter.

When Castro leaves power and Cuban players are once again free to play in the U.S. without having to defect, I have no doubt we will see an influx of talent. All you have to do is look back through the history of the game, at Cubans such as Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Camilo Pascual, Tony Perez and Luis Tiant. There’s already talent trickling here from Cuba one defection at a time. When the doors open, they’ll be joined by a number of others.

    I am writing to you not to ask you a question but really more of a response to recent news that I have come upon that over 30 percent of major league baseball players use anabolic steroids. This obviously explains the offensive explosion that has occurred within the past few years. This is upsetting news to me because now it seems that all these records that are being shattered don't mean anything because they are most likely being broken by players who are on steroids.

    As a high school baseball player I hope to someday play in the major leagues and it is not going to be easier for me or for any other not player not taking steroids to compete against guys who do. I hope that you can address this issue and hopefully help in trying to get the MLB players union to test their players and band this substance. Thank you for your time.

    Frank Nunez
    Ridgefield, N.J.

It's almost hard to remember what baseball was like before the offensive explosion took place, but the reality is, it wasn't that long ago. In 1990, the American League as a whole had a .388 slugging percentage and teams averaged 128 home runs. This season those numbers were .443 and 192. To put the difference into some context, in 1980, the AL average was .399 and 132. Maybe things were down a little in 1990, but they're sure as heck up now. I, for one, don't like it.

There are a lot of explanations tossed around for the offensive explosion in the game, and I think there are numerous contributing factors: the pitching, ball-strike calls, smaller parks, different style of hitting, the balls, expansion. There are half a dozen more. But I'm starting to suspect the biggest reason is the popularity of steroids.

In 1990, 12 major leaguers hit 30 or more home runs. This season, 46 did. That's nearly four times as many 30-homer guys in the big leagues in nine years. Even when you adjust for the addition of four new teams, the home run inflation is rampant.

I don't think the pitching has gotten that much worse in that time span. Heck, a lot of the guys pitching now were around back then. Some of them are even better these days than they were in '91.

But the hitting has changed. I'm not saying that every guy who hit over 30 home runs has steroids raging through his body. But I'll bet you at least a few of them do. There have been numbers thrown around recently by players, trainers and others in the game accusing a third or more of the hitters in baseball of using steroids. If you want to learn more about steroid use in baseball, check out an article I found on the Denver Post Website while looking for information on the topic. It goes into a lot more depth and is a worthwhile read.

I wish the union weren't so against testing for steroids, because it's not healthy for the game and in the long run it's not healthy for the players. I'd love to see a ban on steroids that was enforced by testing. My prediction would be a sudden decrease in offensive numbers across the board.

There also would be a legitimacy to the home runs that were hit. It's hard to get that excited about all of the home runs now, knowing that many of them are tainted in a way.

I can't see a downside to getting steroids out of baseball.

    I realize that Rafael Furcal has won Baseball America’s Rookie of the Year award, but is he a better choice long-term? In this day and age of the longball, I can't see how a leadoff hitter with speed and no power is better than a pure hitter who can hit for both power and average. Is it right to assume that Furcal's steals and defense are better to have than Burrell's power and average?

    Kevin O'Toole
    Norton, Mass.

Just to make it clear, our Rookie of the Year award is based on what the players did in 2000, not what they'll do down the road.

As for Furcal vs. Burrell long-term, what does your team need? If you're looking for a middle infielder who can play outstanding defense, get on base and run like crazy, then Furcal is better. If you need a middle-of-the-order hitter who can play left field or first base, Burrell's a better choice. Neither can do the other's job, though, so there's obviously a place for both of them in the game, perhaps even a spot for both on the all-star team.

Touching on the previous question, if there were no steroids in major league baseball right now, a player like Furcal would be even more valuable than he is today.

I'm not implying that Burrell is one of the steroid users. He too would be more valuable if steroids were eliminated, as would all power hitters who continued to produce without the assistance of illegal substances. But suddenly the little guys who flash some leather and make things happen on the bases would find a new appreciation in a game with less emphasis on the home run.

October 17, 2000

Let's start off today with a couple of comments about Mike Hampton, since he's sort of the hero of the day.

How many folks saw this coming when he walked nine Cubs in a 5-3 loss in Japan on "Opening Day"? I have to confess I didn't. I didn't figure he'd walk nine batters a game all year, but I really expected he'd drop off from what he was with the Astros in 1999. But other than his win-loss record, there's not a lot of difference in his numbers from last year.

My other thought on Hampton revolves around how he'd look in Yankee Stadium tonight—pitching for the Mariners. Long after Eric Anthony washed out of the Kingdome, the infamous Hampton deal continues to make Mariner fans seethe on the inside. Not that the Mariners didn't have enough pitching this year, but it would have been nice to see Hampton in that rotation.

Anyway, let's move on to another playoff participant who didn't have quite the strong finish that Hampton enjoyed.

    What do you think about Rick Ankiel's control problems? Is it possible that he is injured? What other reason could have led to his wild control?

    Ken Bumbaco
    Virginia Beach, Va.

If you told me two weeks ago that the Cardinals would be happy that Ankiel walked two and threw two wild pitches in two-thirds of an inning, I'm certain I wouldn't have believed you. But that's the spin they're putting on Monday night's outing, and it just goes to show how awful his previous two games were. Altogether in four postseason innings, he threw nine wild pitches. He had just 12 in the entire regular season.

There have been no reports of any physical ailment in Ankiel's case, so that leaves only the mental side as a possible root. Considering Ankiel's past success and the confidence and determination that have gotten him where he is, he's one of the last guys I'd expect to be hit with something like this. He said he believed the wildness was caused by him not finishing his pitches properly, and he didn't have the same problem with his curveball because he was finishing those off. But detecting a symptom and curing a disease are two different things.

The name people throw around in a case of sudden wildness like this is Steve Blass. And no one really saw it coming in his case, either. He went from an all-star to a wildman overnight. In 1972 Blass made the National League all-star team, going 19-8 with a 2.49 ERA and 84 walks in 249 2/3 innings. The next season he went 3-9, 9.85 with 84 walks—and 27 strikeouts—in 88 2/3 innings. He pitched just one more game, in 1974, and his career was over. That's a guy who entered the '73 season with a 100-67 record in eight big league campaigns.

I have a feeling the Rick Ankiel we'll see next spring is the same one who showed up all year for the Cardinals during the regular season this year. But you can't be sure until we get there.

    What was the first year that baseball was played in the Olympics?

    Lorin Slade
    Manchester, Mass.

The modern incarnation of baseball in the Olympics began in 1984 in Los Angeles, when it was a demonstration sport. Baseball became a medal sport in 1992 in Barcelona.

But baseball's history in the Games dates back a lot further than that. In our 1996 Olympic Preview, we went into some detail on the history of baseball in the Olympics. Here's what we had in our Olympic Timeline then:

1912 (Stockholm, Sweden)—The United States beats Vesteras of Sweden 13-3 in the first Olympic baseball exhibition.

1936 (Berlin)—A crowd of 125,000 watches a night game between two U.S. teams. Carson Thompson throws four innings of no-hit relief to lead the World Amateurs past the USA Olympics 6-5.

1940 (Tokyo)—Baseball is scheduled to be an Olympic sport, but World War II forces cancellation of the games. Baseball is dropped from the Olympic Games.

1952 (Helsinki, Finland)—A group of U.S. players from the Olympic Village, coached by the manager of the U.S. soccer team and using borrowed equipment, wins a practice game against Venezuela 14-6. The United States then scores seven runs in the first inning en route to a 19-1 victory over Finland's top team in an official demonstration game before 4,000 fans.

1956 (Melbourne, Australia)—Sergeant Vance Sutton's grand slam keys an 11-5 victory for a team of U.S. military personnel stationed in the Far East over an Australian team. The beginning of the game, played at the stadium used for track and field competition later that day, is witnessed by just a few thousand fans. Early-arriving track fans reportedly swell the crowd to nearly 100,000 by the end of the game.

1964 (Tokyo)—University of Southern California coach Rod Dedeaux guides the best-organized U.S. team at that point in Olympic history to a 6-2 win over Japan. Team USA, which featured future major leaguers such as Chuck Dobson, Mike Epstein, Ken Suarez and Gary Sutherland, toured Japan and played Far East all-star teams before the Olympics.

So as you can see, the history of the game in the Olympics dates back nearly 90 years. But baseball as it's currently organized is a relative newcomer to the Games.

    In mid-September, the Mariners sent a team of 22 farmhands from Everett and the Arizona League to play some games in Japan and China. For some reason there has been no coverage of this tour in the local papers. I even asked the Mariners about it on their Website and received no answer. Do you have any idea how this tour went?

    Joe Hamilton
    Shoreline, Wash.

Mariners farmhands went 3-2 against teams from Japan and China. They were scheduled to play six games, but the first contest in Japan was rained out. That left only one game in Japan, against a farm team of the Orix Blue Wave in Kobe. The Mariners won that game 7-4. Third baseman Miguel Villilo, the No. 2 prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League, went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs to lead the attack. First baseman Brian Hertel pitched in with three RBIs of his own. Lefthander Steve Kent struck out five and allowed only one hit in three innings of relief work.

The Seattle farmhands split four games in China against a team from Beijing, losing 10-5 in the first game, then sweeping a doubleheader 4-3 and 4-2 before dropping the last game 1-0. The Mariners don’t have box scores handy for the games in China, so they had no individual highlights to report.

    I saw in your Fall/Winter Baseball News that there is a tentative opening date of Nov. 29th in Australia. What are the plans and is this going to be an alternative to the California Fall League?

    Chris Cameron
    Plantation, Fla.

The International Baseball League Australia is not a replacement for the California Fall League. It's just a newer version of the league that's operated in Australia for years. The league has undergone a lot of change in the last two winters and it seems like it's still evolving heading into this season.

For information on the league, I went to the IBLA Website, and this is what they had to say:

    International Baseball League close to reality

    A truly International Baseball League hosted by Australia is closer to reality as the IBLA gets set for season 2000/2001.

    Plans are well and truly underway for the IBLA to host at least three International and the Australian national team in its inaugural International tournament.

    Capitalising on the level of interest generated by the Olympic games and the indication by International teams to send their players to Australia, fans can look forward to the beginning of a first class competition.

    With final preparations predicted to be complete shortly, the IBLA welcomes you to keep an eye on this space for schedule, venue and team announcements.

Well and truly, indeed. What I take from that explanation is that they still don't know the exact composition of the league, though they're only six weeks away from opening the season. It sounds like it will be completely different in structure from past years, when some Americans went over to play on rosters that were stocked mostly by Aussies. But my advice for anyone interested in the league is to keep checking the IBLA Website, because eventually they're bound to know more than they've revealed thus far.

October 12, 2000

We already have begun to see several questions on the free-agent compensation system, and even though we addressed this last year, here it is once more for those who may have come aboard since then. And we'll also add it to FAQ page, because this question definitely falls into the category of frequently asked.

    Can you explain how the free-agent process works? Some free agent losses result in two picks (one from the team and one supplemental), while other free agent losses result in different compensation.

    Steve Opperman
    Sheridan, Colo.

Every offseason, the Elias Sports Bureau compiles rankings of all major league players, based on the previous two year's stats. The players are ranked by position, so first basemen aren’t compared to second basemen, etc. The players are then broken down into Type A, Type B and Type C (and the rest).

Type A players are players rated in the top 30 percent of all players at their position. Type B players are players rated in the 31-50 percent bracket at their position. Type C players are players rated in the 51-60 percent bracket at their position. Because the players are only compared to others at their position, some players might be a Type B but seem to be not as good as some Type C players, etc., but that’s how the system works.

When a team loses a free agent who is ranked in one of the three categories, they receive compensation as follows (if and only if they offered that player arbitration before he signed with his new team):

  • Type A. Team losing player gets signing team’s first-round pick as well as a supplemental first-round pick. If the signing team is picking in the first half of the first round, they lose their second-rounder instead of their first-rounder.
  • Type B. Team losing player gets signing team’s first-round pick. If the signing team is picking in the first half of the first round, they lose their second-rounder instead of their first-rounder.
  • Type C. Team losing player gets a supplemental pick after the second round.

If a team doesn't offer arbitration to their free agent, they get nothing when he signs with another team. This brings up the next question of why don't the teams always offer arbitration? The answer is, they often are afraid the player will accept it. It's a gamble some teams aren't willing to take, even if it seems likely the player is heading out of town.

    No Lance Berkman on the Top 20 rookies? I don't get it.

    Lee DeOrio
    Roslyn, Penn.

There was some confusion on Berkman's eligibility this year. We included him in our preseason list, overlooking that he had too much service time in 1999, even though he had just 93 at-bats.

I inferred from that, incorrectly, that he was eligible and that we used the same standard for our Rookie of the Year as we did for our Top 10 lists: Any players with fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings, regardless of service time, is eligible. I actually discussed this regarding Berkman a couple of months ago. But when we sat down to discuss our rookie list, I was informed that we used the same rules for our Rookie of the Year award as the major leagues, except for the fact that we only give one award, not one for each league.

So the bottom line is Berkman wasn't eligible, or he would have factored in very high on the list.

    I know you guys are sick of defending your Top 20 lists, but Nate Rolison's a friend of mine and I'm curious why he didn't make the Pacific Coast League Top 20. He was selected as the PCL's rookie of the year, an honor I understand is linked more to performance than potential. In your Best Tools survey, he was selected as having the most power in the league. His walk-to-strikeout ratio is decent and improving every year, and he hit for a good average. All this on a 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame. What have you heard as to why he didn't make the Top 20 cut?

    Frank Nagurney
    Hattiesburg, Miss.

Rolison, 23, hit a career-best .330 this season at Calgary, with 37 doubles and 23 home runs. He also drew 70 walks and 117 strikeouts, which is a solid ratio for a power hitter. He was certainly discussed when the PCL list was compiled, and in fact just missed the cut. Here's what Jim Callis, who wrote the PCL Top 20, had to say about Rolison:

"Rolison just missed making the list and would have been somewhere between 21-23 if we had gone deeper. His best tool is his lefthanded power, as he's a line-drive hitter who can lift balls out of the park. He has started to pull more pitches, though he's still more of a doubles hitter than a homer guy. Twenty-three homers in the PCL isn't a lot for a first baseman, and a big league first baseman needs to hit 30 or more these days, or he's giving his team below-average production. He also draws a lot of walks despite striking out in bunches.

"The negatives on Rolison are that he doesn't handle balls up in the strike zone and he struggles against lefthanders, who get him to chase pitches. Reviews of his defense are mixed, though defense isn't going to make up much of a first baseman's value. One manager likened him to Mark Johnson (the one with the Mets) with a better idea of hitting. Johnson is a career .234 hitter with 31 homers in 819 at-bats, so that's not a comparison that flatters Rolison."

October 10, 2000

It's real early to speculate on the 2001 draft. We've seen a lot of questions about how the first five picks stack up, where certain players might go, etc. I'm reluctant to even bother answering those, because it's unlikely any projection now is going to prove accurate. We're still 3-5 months from the opening of the college and high school seasons, and plenty of top talents are going to emerge before next June.

But people have worn me down with Mark Teixeira questions, so I'm finally giving in and taking a shot at them.

First, a spelling lesson for you: T-E-I-X-E-I-R-A.

I've seen the name spelled a dozen different ways, and of course there can only be one correct way. Just remember, "I before E, except in Teixeira."

    I was wondering if you think that the Twins will take Mark Teixeira with the first pick in next year's draft even though it will probably take a major league contract and a decent bonus to sign him. Or will they go for an economical choice? And should they take Teixeira, how soon would it take him to make an impact with Minnesota?

    Jay Rankin
    Burnsville, Minn.

I personally don't think the Twins are going to go for Teixeira, Georgia Tech’s star third baseman. Consider the success they had in getting Adam Johnson, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, to agree to a deal ahead of time after they couldn’t get the consensus top talent, Matt Harrington, to do the same the night before the draft. Also consider that they lost Aaron Heilman (supplemental first round) and Taggert Bozied (second round). I think that, and a small-market mentality all adds up to the Twins doing their darnedest to come to terms with someone before draft day next year.

As the team with the No. 1 pick, they've got the ability to basically let a player pick them. Sure it's technically illegal, but predraft deals were prevalent this year, and I wouldn't expect that to change.

Though Johnson had an outstanding debut, he was regarded at the time of the draft as a fallback pick. A guy who would be a solid pick and sign quickly, though he might not be the best player available. The Twins shied away from Xavier Nady, who was basically the 2000 version of Teixeira (though maybe a notch down on the talent scale), not once, but three times. They made three selections before Nady went to the Padres with the 49th pick.

Now you could argue that they figured they had to pay out four early-round bonuses (they had an additional second-rounder courtesy of the Orioles signing Mike Trombley), and couldn't shoot the wad on one guy. But in the end, they only paid out two of those, with Johnson getting $2.5 million and righthander J.D. Durbin, the 54th overall pick, getting $722,500.

Their previous M.O. doesn't lead you to believe this is a team that's about to break the bank to sign Teixeira, whether he's the consensus top choice or not. Since the Travis Lee debacle in 1996 (maybe the Twins just knew he wasn't going to turn out), Minnesota has signed its first pick in each of the last four years. I don't think they'll risk that streak by taking Teixeira.

That leaves him for the Cubs, who have drafted as high as No. 3 in two of the past three drafts and now will be picking second. Both times they opted for a high school player (Corey Patterson in '98, Luis Montanez this year), though the consensus top college player was still available. You certainly can't fault them for that, as the moves have turned out well. Patterson is one of the top prospects in the game and Montanez was the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League in his debut this season. But, consider that J.D. Drew and Nady/Joe Borchard were available, and you see that the Cubs seem to lean toward the high school talent when they have a shot at a top player.

Unlike the Twins, their motivation hasn't been money, as they gave Patterson the largest bonus in the '98 draft at $3.7 million. (The Phillies gave Pat Burrell more in signing him to a major league deal, but just $3.15 million was bonus money.) Montanez got $2.75 million, which was one of the top bonuses of this year's class. If there’s a high school player who distinguishes himself as a top-quality pick, I think the Cubs might lean that way, given their recent history. But if not, I think they will step up to the plate and go for Teixeira. They also have a crying need at third base that has existed since Ron Santo left.

It's early to speculate on the draft, because a lot can change, but for three of the last four years, the player projected as the top college talent before the season was drafted in the top three picks (Drew No. 2 in '97, Burrell No. 1 in '98 and Eric Munson No. 3 in '99). This year's draft scrambled all of that with Nady going 49th. But I think it's a safe bet that Teixeira will be a very early pick.

Of course, it's not clear whether he'll actually be the No. 1 player listed on our college Top 100 when that comes out at the end of the month. He does have some competition for that spot, chiefly from Southern California righthander Mark Prior. I won't go into more on that because I don't know more about the list. And even if I could learn more, I wouldn't want to spoil it.

By the way, if the Cubs hadn't been able to sign Patterson in '98, he might be the one we'd be speculating on right now instead of Teixeira. And he'd be playing at Georgia Tech. Imagine Teixeira not even being the best player on his own team. That would be a heck of a squad.

    Offensively, how do you compare Mark Teixeira to Troy Glaus and Pat Burrell? Do you think he will be as big of a success as Glaus? Do you think Burrell will break out like Glaus next year? Which of the three do you think will be the most productive professional batsman over the next 10 years?

    Michael Marinaro

Burrell posted numbers this year similar to what Glaus did last year in his first full season. Actually, Burrell's numbers, other than his strikeouts, were better than Glaus' '99 stats. Burrell posted a .359 on-base percentage and .463 slugging for a .822 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Glaus had a .331 on-base and a .450 slugging for a .781 OPS last year.

So, if Burrell had a better first full year (I know, he had just 408 at-bats, but that's pretty full), can you project a better--or even as good--second year? I don't think you can, because I don't think you could have projected what Glaus did. In one year he jumped his OPS from .781 to 1.008.

Glaus had a great season this year, and I think he surprised a lot of people. For as much attention as Darin Erstad got this year, you could make an argument--a good one--that he was only the second-best hitter on his team. Their on-base percentages were nearly identical, but Glaus outslugged Erstad by more than 60 points.

I do think Burrell will improve a lot next season, but it's hard to project anyone boosting their OPS by 227 points in one season. Not that it's unprecedented. It's just hard to forecast. And I do think he'll catch Glaus, but it might take him a couple of years to get there.

I see Teixeira making better contact than Burrell and Glaus, but it's hard to project him matching Glaus' power production, when the guy just broke the major league record for homers by a third baseman. But I think Teixeira could have as much actual power. He always has hit well with wood bats in the summer, so his power should translate to the pro game, like Burrell's and Glaus' did.

Teixeira's advantage over the other two is that he's a switch-hitter. Burrell and Glaus are both righty swingers.

If you are asking about the next 10 years, I'll go with Burrell, Glaus and Teixeira in that order, mainly because Teixeira probably doesn't have his first full big league season until 2003. If you want to rank the first 10 years of their big league careers, I might go with Teixeira, because I think he could hit for the best average of the three. Of course, there's not really a bum in that group and I'd be happy to have any of the three on my roster if I were a big league GM.

    It looks like Abraham Nunez, the Marlins outfielder obtained from the Diamondbacks in the Matt Mantei trade, has gone from one of the top outfield prospects in baseball to not even being mentioned in a top 20 list. I know he couldn't play in the field this year because of an arm injury, but is the injury so bad he won't recover full arm strength? As I recall, he was quite young to be playing Double-A ball this year and I don't understand how a subpar year at that age could so dramatically affect his status as a prospect.

    Walt Root
    Dana Point, Calif.

You have to remember that the managers only rank players based on what they see, not what a player has done before. If a player can't play the field, he doesn't get the opportunity to show off an important facet of his game. Nunez didn't get that shot this year. I don't believe his injury is supposed to affect him long-term, but if he didn't have any chance to show off half of his game, a manager can't even have a basis for projection on his defensive abilities. Then throw in that he didn't really light it up with the bat, and it's hard for Nunez to draw a lot of support from league managers in a ranking like that.

It doesn't necessarily indicate that he's no longer a highly regarded prospect, only that he didn't have the opportunity to show that this season.

October 5, 2000

As you might expect, we see a lot of questions repeated here and in the general e-mails that are sent in by readers. We've taken a bunch of them and worked them into a Frequently Asked Questions page. I have to give a lot of the credit for this to Will Kimmey, who was our intern over the summer. He compiled the bulk of the questions.

We'll be updating the FAQ page from time to time to include other questions, but for now we tried to cover the topics that we've seen repeatedly since we launched Baseball America Online last year. If you have a general question, you might check that page before writing us, because the answer could be right there for you. I hope everyone finds that page helpful.

Now for some questions that aren't on the FAQ page, here's today's column ...

    I was looking over the Arizona Fall League Rosters and I was wondering when Darnell McDonald was moved to the Phillies? Was he a throw-in in another deal? Actually, I can't remember a Phillies/Orioles deadline deal, or why there would be one. I can't help but think this has got to be a better career move for McDonald considering the rate that Baltimore develops ... nevermind. Any light you could shed on the matter would be appreciated.

    J.B.
    Scottsdale, Ariz.

We were perplexed by this as well. The information for the rosters came from majorleaguebaseball.com, the official site of the AFL. And they list McDonald as being on the roster as a Phillie. A phone call to the Phillies, however, cleared the matter up.

McDonald is still an Orioles farmhand. The Phillies had an opening after outfielder Josue Perez was injured and they didn't have anyone they wanted to send to Arizona to fill it. So, another team had an opportunity to send an extra player, and the Orioles sent McDonald to play for Maryvale, even though the rest of their players in the AFL are on the Mesa roster.

    In your Top 20 Prospects list for the Appalachian League, you noted that league managers weren't impressed by Sean Boyd, the Cards' top pick and the 13th overall this year.

    This seems to be a pattern in the past two drafts for the Cards. The guys getting the million-dollar bonuses—Chance Caple, Nick Stocks, Chris Duncan and now Boyd—don't seem to have true first-round skills. (Blake Williams, drafted later in the first round this year, might be an exception; he had a 1.59 ERA in six starts for New Jersey.)

    The Cardinals seem to have had strong overall drafts the past two years. But what's the problem with these bonus babies?

    Lou Schuler

It's really hard to label a high school kid as a disappointment just a few months after they've been drafted, and I wouldn't do that in Boyd's case. The managers I talked with were not impressed by his defense in center field, where he moved last spring after having trouble in the infield in high school. He's also got some adjustments to make at the plate, which is not unusual at all for a player in his first season. He was probably overdrafted, but all players progress at different rates and until a kid has an opportunity to attend instructional league and spring training and play a full season, it's premature to write him off.

Duncan's had enough time to raise questions about him as a premium pick. After hitting .214 with six homers at Rookie-level Johnson City in 1999, he hit .256-8-57 at low Class A Peoria this year. He did cut down on his strikeout rate, fanning 111 times in 450 at-bats after striking out 62 times in 201 at-bats last year.

At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, he was billed as a power hitter when he was drafted, but that hasn't come through yet. Some people feel his swing is too long and that's the root of his problems. A supplemental first-rounder last year, he actually received a $900,000 bonus, so he's not technically in the million-dollar bonus club. At this point you have to wonder if it was money well spent, but he's still just 19 and I'm sure the Cardinals will be patient with him.

I'm not ready to throw Caple and Stocks in the disappointment category, though it's true neither made his league's Top 20. Caple went 7-9, 4.39 in 22 starts at high Class A Potomac this year, striking out 97 and walking 34 in 125 innings. Stocks spent the year at low Class A Peoria, going 10-10, 3.78 in 150 innings. He allowed just 133 hits and 52 walks and struck out 118.

Those aren't dominating numbers for either guy, but they're not bad, either. The Cardinals have said they were impressed by Stocks' makeup as well.

Jim Callis wrote a column this spring about expectations for first-round picks and the reality of what first-rounders become. He concluded that one in six first-rounders becomes an all-star caliber player, while one in three of them never make it to the big leagues at all. I have a feeling the Cardinals will be right about average for their first-round haul of 1999-2000 when we look back on things a few years down the road.

    I have a situational question. Runners on first and second with less than two out. The ball is hit to the shortstop and the runner on second is intentionally hit to prevent the double play. Is he successful?

    Jason Cress

He is successful in angering his own manager. The rule book states: "If the umpire declares the hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out."

October 3, 2000

The season is over, and I have a confession to make to all the Red Sox fans out there: We were wrong.

We set off quite a maelstrom in Red Sox Nation this spring when we released our major and minor league talent rankings. Some Sox fans were quite upset that we had stacked Boston up as the seventh best team in terms of major league talent. They wrote me and told me so themselves. And now I'd like to apologize. We blew it.

We really thought the Sox would make the playoffs. We didn't realize there were 10 teams out there that would finish with better records. Sorry about that. We'll try to be more accurate next year.

Look at the bright side. At least you don't have to wait so long until the Duke picks in next year's draft. Speaking of which, let's take a look at the 2001 draft order.

    Could you shed some light on the tiebreaker methodology used to determine a team's draft position when teams share final won-loss records? For example, this year, the Cubs and Phillies tied for the worst record in the major leagues. Who will have the first pick in the upcoming amateur draft? (As a lifelong Cubs fan, I find myself once again grasping the straws of hope from the rubble of a collapsed season.)

    David Sweet
    New Haven, Conn.

The Cubs are the winners in the losers' bracket. They will pick ahead of the Phillies, because they were worse in 1999. When two teams in a league finish with the same record, the team that picked earlier the previous season picks earlier again. I guess the logic is they must really need the help more than the other team. I think it should be the other way around to balance things out a little. But it's yet another thing MLB didn't consult with me on.

Still, the Cubs won't pick first overall, even though they tied for the worst record in the game. The selections alternate from league to league, with the American League going first in odd-numbered years and teams drafting in reverse order of their 2000 finish. This year the Marlins, an NL team, picked first.

1.Twins16.Marlins
2.Cubs17.Red Sox
3.Devil Rays18.Rockies
4.Phillies19.Yankees
5.Rangers20.Reds
6.Expos21.Indians
7.Orioles22.Diamondbacks
8.Pirates23.Mariners
9.Royals24.Dodgers
10.Astros25.Athletics
11.Tigers26.Mets
12.Brewers27.White Sox
13.Angels28.Cardinals
14.Padres29.Braves
15.Blue Jays30.Giants

The order in the second half of the first round (picks 16-30) could change after teams sign free agents in the offseason and have to give up draft picks as compensation. Free-agent signings also could create supplemental picks after the first and second rounds and compensation picks in the second and third rounds.

    Now that the "affiliate shuffle" is pretty much over, who signed with the Visalia Oaks? I understand that the A's organization was trying to keep their affiliation in Visalia because they can field two competitive teams in the Cal League and keep most of their minor league affiliates (Sacramento, Modesto and Visalia) in California.

    Ben Almojela
    Stockton, Calif.

Oakland wound up keeping both of its California League teams, which is what it preferred. So they are still in Visalia and Modesto. This was made possible by the Astros signing up with two low Class A teams, Lexington and Michigan. The realignment was only done to allow the teams that wanted one team at each Class A level to have one. But if there are teams that prefer two at one level and none at the other, that's their choice. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but to each his own.

    How can you guys not place Lew Ford on your Minor League All-Star Team? The guy led all of minor league baseball with 122 runs scored, was only caught stealing twice in 58 attempts and was in the top of the league in all hitting categories not including homers.

    The knock on Lew seems to be his age, which I find very misleading. Lew wasn't even planning on playing college baseball, instead choosing to go to Texas A&M to get a degree in computer engineering. He stayed there two years and then decided to try out for the team just for fun. He made the team but was stuck behind Chad Allen of the Twins and Jason Tyner of the Mets.

    Anyway, he ended up playing for four different colleges over the next three years.

    The difference between Lew and these young pups is that he is a 24 year-old that will make the Twins 40-man roster next year. What is the difference in that and an 23-year-old like Trot Nixon who took 6 years to make it to the bigs?

    Lew Ford will be the starting center fielder for the Twins before the end of next year.

    Ben Jeffery

I've said in this space before that I like Ford's chances. It's apparent that he doesn't have the typical background of your average 24-year-old ballplayer, but he's got some tools, chiefly speed. I was a little surprised myself that he didn't show up on at least our low Class A all-star team. He hit .315 with 35 doubles, 11 triples and nine home runs in addition to leading the minors with 122 runs as mentioned above.

The three outfielders that were chosen for that team were Marlon Byrd (Piedmont), Josh Hamilton (Charleston, S.C.) and Austin Kearns (Dayton). To be honest, the guy I'd have left out in favor of Ford would be Hamilton. He hit .301-13-61 and those numbers would have been better had he not missed the last month of the season. But Ford had a better year in that league.

The reason he was left off was that he's five years older than Hamilton, and in most cases with our all-star teams and awards, the tie goes to the better prospect. But if I'd had a vote on the team, I'd have gone with Ford, because I don't think they were really tied. That's just me and obviously I'm in the minority on our staff.

That said, I, for one, see a big difference between Ford and Nixon (hmmm . . . politics on the mind). Nixon is actually 26 now and he spent only five seasons in the minor leagues, not six as mentioned above. When he was 24 he was repeating Triple-A—and a lot of people were probably starting to wonder what was taking the guy so long to get to the big leagues.

As to Ford being the starting center fielder in Minnesota before the end of next year, well, let me just say that that would be a heck of a jump and leave it at that.


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