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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.)

September 28, 2000

Well, the Top 20 Prospect lists have begun and I hope everyone is enjoying them. We've seen a couple of questions from readers, and we'll start off today with one of those.

    I would like to say first that I have in the past been a subscriber to your publication, and even now buy the occasional copy off the newsstand. I visit your Website almost daily, and enjoy your coverage and analysis. However, I have a major issue with your Gulf Coast League rankings.

    Where is Scott Heard? I find it almost impossible to fathom that he was not in the top three, much less the Top 20! You ranked him among the top 10 draft prospects not less than three months ago, and since then all he has done is prove he is even better than advertised. He hit .351, better than several players on the list, and every scouting report I have ever read say he has awesome skills defensively. The other player you guessed was in the running for the top pick in the draft, Gonzalez, was outmatched in almost every hitting category by Heard, not to mention the fact that Heard is a top defensive prospect at a premium position.

    I understand that you rely upon manager evaluations when making you list, but that still is no excuse. If you are going to call them prospects, they should be rated by scouting. If you are going to rely on managers, they should be called "Managers' Choice Prospects," or something to that effect. If Heard had been rated in the top 10, I may not have agreed, but at least I would respect your judgement. As it is, Heard obviously belongs in the top 10 (more like top five), and all I can attribute his not being included to is an oversight by your staff, an overemphasis on manager opinions, or just plain apathy in performance.

    I am very disappointed, and will from now on rely on other sources for information on my favorite Ranger farmhands. You have lost an intelligent and loyal reader, and there is no excuse you can give to make up for Heard's exclusion. It's just poor work on your part, and I'm sorry for that, for I know as well as you that I'm not the only one who thinks so.

    D.T. Mitt
    Dallas

Wow, come on up for air any time.

The puzzling thing is that you've really answered your own question. Why didn't Scott Heard rank very high? Well, as we plainly spell out—and you say you understand—the lists are done in conjunction with the managers, and in the case of Heard, none of the managers in the Gulf Coast League were very excited about his future.

Allan Simpson, the editor and founder of Baseball America, handled the GCL list himself and was somewhat surprised at the reports he got on Heard. But the fact of the matter is, Heard was most definitely asked about. There was no oversight, the managers simply didn't feel he'd hit. You can't deny that he did hit .351 in his debut season, but as I've said before in this space, I'm not going to get too excited over a lofty or a disappointing batting average when it comes in a small sample. And 111 at-bats to me qualifies as a small sample.

Heard had a nice season, but that doesn't prove he can hit major league pitching any more than Rocco Baldelli's .216 average this summer at Rookie-level Princeton proves he can't. You've got to be able to look beyond the numbers, especially when you're talking about Rookie ball and focus on a hitter's swing, tools and approach. And the managers that saw Heard apparently didn't feel he had what it takes to continue to post numbers as he climbs the ladder.

Maybe they're wrong. But if we're presenting the Top 10 (20) lists as having done them in conjunction with the managers, we can't very well ignore what they say and write whatever we want about a player, can we? We try instead to objectively sift through what the managers have said and put together the lists. We've never once tried to disguise the fact that managers are not scouts and may have a different viewpoint. Our organization Top 10 lists are done from more of a scouting standpoint, with input directly from the teams, and if you prefer that, you can weight those more heavily when you read them. But most of the managers in minor league ball have been around the game a long time and know what they're talking about enough that I'll respect what they have to say.

We've been doing the league lists since 1983 and have a pretty solid track record. We're not going to pretend that the lists always prove completely accurate over time, but we've got a better record than anyone else out there. Many of the prospect reports, magazines and Websites out there borrow from us, some heavily (and blatantly). If you want to seek out alternative sources for your prospect fill, that's your prerogative. Just keep in mind that many of the others base their lists heavily off of statistics while we actually take the time to talk to people in the game.

    I notice the shortstop position on Team USA had one hit in 28 at-bats. Adam Everett was 1-for-23 and Gookie Dawkins was 0-for-5. Are these guys really top major league prospects when they are taking the collar against the likes of South Africa, Italy and the Netherlands?

    Also Dawkins (No. 21 on the preseason Top 100) could not get the start over Everett (No. 76). It seems Dawkins was used a pinch-runner and defensive replacement for Everett. Does this say more about Dawkins' offense than Everett's defense?

    What do these Olympics tell us about these guys?

    BTW, you had the best Olympic baseball coverage by far.

    Keith Howard
    Melbourne Beach, FL

I'd say the Olympics tell you about what the minor league season told us about both Dawkins and Everett. They are both defense-first players who may never hit a lot in the big leagues. That doesn't make for much of a platoon.

Though they didn't hit, the outstanding defense they brought to the table may have actually been more important in the Olympic setting than it might be in the minor leagues or even majors. Most of the games were low scoring, placing a premium on defense. You could argue with an outstanding hitter at short, there'd be more runs to work with, but Alex Rodriguez wasn't made available to Team USA, so they made do with what they had.

Dawkins surprised a lot of people by hitting .364 at Double-A Chattanooga last year and starring in the Pan Am Games. Apparently, that was the offensive spark people were waiting to see, because he's got a lot of other tools and if he could hit he'd be a fine big league shortstop. But his .364 average came in just 129 at-bats, and it's possible some people got a false read on just where he was offensively.

This season, back at Chattanooga, Dawkins managed to hit just .231 with six homers in 368 at-bats. That's a definite step backward and I'd guess his true hitting ability lies somewhere in between, closer to the .231 than the .364.

Everett showed a little more with the bat and at a higher level this year, hitting .245 but drawing 75 walks at Triple-A New Orleans. He too may have gotten peoples hopes up a little with a strong finish in 1999, as he hit all of his 10 homers in the second half of last season at Double-A Everett.

Given the state of the Astros offense, if Everett can hit .250-.260, they can carry his bat to get his glove in the lineup. The Reds may not be able to afford that luxury with Dawkins, but they could be close. And with a double-play combo of Dawkins and Pokey Reese, they might not need much offense.

September 26, 2000

The Olympic script so far couldn't have been written much better for Team USA. The Cuba-U.S. rematch in the gold-medal game is just what everyone had to be hoping for after the loss to the Cubans in the round-robin. That would be a great game to watch live, if only that were an option.

Apparently, they've been showing plenty of live coverage in Canada. Some folks have been staying up nights to watch the events as they happen. I think there are a lot of people here who would have enjoyed that option.

We will have something live for you from Sydney this evening, though. John Manuel will be fielding questions on the Olympics at 6 p.m. ET tonight. I encourage you to check it out and see what he has to say about the games. He's been doing a tremendous job of covering the tournament for us from Sydney and I'm sure he'll have a lot of great information for everyone in the chat.

But before we get to that, we've got a few questions to field right here. We'll start off with an event that was seriously overshadowed by the Olympics this year, as if it didn't have enough trouble finding a spotlight somewhere.

    Why would the officials place the 2001 Triple-A World Series back in Las Vegas? The attendance has been poor, it doesn't allow team fans to attend games and who goes to baseball games in Las Vegas? Another poor decision by people who probably don't attend many games on their own.

    Thanks,
    Marylou

It does seem a little odd to me that the resolution they came up with was to shorten the series, but keep it in Las Vegas. I don't think it was the number of games that was causing the small crowds, but rather the venue.

It's been argued that if the TAWS people want to make their event as big as some other events like the College World Series (Omaha), Little League World Series (Williamsport, Pa.) or even the Connie Mack World Series (Farmington, N.M.) it needs to be the big event in town. That's simply not possible in Las Vegas. I actually question whether it's possible anywhere. I don't think it is.

There has been a long history of apathy for the playoffs in the minor leagues. Memphis defied that by attracting 14,555 for a game in the Pacific Coast League finals. But for the most part, postseason crowds are sparse. There are several reasons why minor league playoffs don't typically draw well. For one, the kids have gone back to school, ending the family night out at the ballpark for many families. It's also difficult, if not impossible, to lure groups to playoff games, because they can't be planned for far in advance like a regular season game. That also hurts sales of individual tickets.

Regardless of the reason, minor league baseball is unique in that it's about the only sport around where people care less about the playoffs than they do about the regular season. It's just not important that minor league teams win, at least not to a lot of people. Some season-ticket holders and die-hards will disagree, but they are the exception. And as long as there aren't many exceptions, you're not going to have many folks who are both willing and able to drop everything on a few days' notice and head for Vegas to support their team, no matter if it's for five days during the week or three games over the weekend.

I can understand on one hand the logic of placing the games in a neutral site: You know months ahead of time when they will be played and you can sell the tickets and TV rights accordingly. But as long as you don't know who will be playing, it's tough to pre-sell tickets to fans who live farther away than, say, Carson City. And I think that's the case whether they keep the series in Las Vegas or move it to somewhere that it would be the main attraction. It would probably help if it were moved to a city with a little less going on, but for me, the best solution would be just letting the teams involved host it.

Now you're back to the question of whether you can draw for a playoff game, but I think the Triple-A World Series is capable of breaking that long-standing trend if it's billed right. There's a lot to be said for civic pride and most cities would probably make a pretty concerted effort to fill their ballpark for 2-3 games on national television. Face it, there are a lot of fans who'd be more likely to go to a game if they knew they just might get a few seconds of air time on ESPN2.

If they could show some TV shots of a packed house for a TAWS game, I think that could go a long way toward establishing legitimacy for the event. It's hard to pretend anyone out there in TV Land should care when no one at the ballpark does. And the crowd shots you saw in the background of this year's series were pitiful indeed. There appeared to be no more than a few hundred people in the stands for last Wednesday's Game Three. The announced average for the series was 2,311, but there was some serious inflation at work there. And regardless of the move to the weekend for 2001, I don't see the numbers improving much.

The only real solution I see is giving it back to the cities of the teams involved. They'll be reluctant to do that because the city of Las Vegas has paid them $750,000 a year the last three years to host the series. But if attendance and interest doesn't pick up soon, that money will disappear and sooner or later either the event will be abandoned or they'll realize the best place for the games is in the home parks.

    What is your take on this Bud Smith guy? Does he have the tools to get guys out in the bigs? Why don't they let this guy swing it as well? He hit .390 with 15 jacks for LA Harbor. You can't teach a swing like he has waiting in his back pocket.

    Kevin Armstrong
    Wilmington, CA

I think Smith is going to find some success in the big leagues, but I don't envision him dominating as he has in the minors (dominating with his results, not his stuff). And I think it could take a couple of seasons before he becomes a winner.

Smith has drawn the Jamie Moyer comparisons because he throws in the upper 80s, with a nice changeup and curve. He spots his pitchers well and seems to have a grasp of pitching beyond what one would expect of a 20-year-old.

Moyer was a college draftee in 1984 out of St. Joseph's, but he, like Smith, posted outstanding numbers in the minor leagues, reaching the Cubs just over two years after signing. Of course, it took him awhile before he found his groove in the big leagues. He didn't become a consistent winner until 10 years after he made his big league debut.

Mets lefthander Glendon Rusch might be another valid comparison. When he was 20 he went 14-6 with a 1.74 ERA for Class A Wilmington in 1994. He spent the next season at Triple-A Omaha, then reached the big leagues in '96. He's had his moments, as well as plenty of rough times since then.

The thing these guys come to the big leagues with is a reputation for being savvy--"knowledgeable beyond their years" as some put it. But they generally prove to have a big league learning curve like anyone else, and a smaller margin for error than the guys who come equipped with mid-90s fastballs. They can't rare back and blow anyone away when they get in trouble.

Still, there will always be a place for savvy lefthanders in the big leagues, and some of them will win plenty of ballgames. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that because they know more than their minor league brethren that they've learned enough to step into a big league rotation without taking a few lumps.

    It seems that the first five picks of the Reds were pretty solid, more so than any other teams that I can see. How do you see it?

    Clayton Downs
    Clearwater, Fla.

In our draft recap issue, we ranked the Reds among this year's winners in the draft. It said "They took a big gamble in selecting shortstop David Espinosa (23rd) and catcher Dane Sardinha (46th), who were both on the short list to go No. 1 overall. Both are advised by Scott Boras, so you know they won't come cheap, but it would be a coup if the Reds sign them."

Of course, the Reds have signed both Espinosa and Sardinha and that's a nice talent injection for the organization. It looked a little iffy for a while on whether the draft-day gambles would pay off. You'd probably rather get a signability guy under contract than take a top talent and watch him go to school. But the Reds seem to have the best of both worlds on this one. The word is that they'll even sign supplemental first-rounder Dustin Moseley before it's all said and done. If they're able to do that, their draft will certainly rank among the best of this year. It's just a shame that none of their top picks was able to play this summer.

September 21, 2000

In the past 24 hours I've received a handful of e-mails from readers disappointed that they didn't find the Top 20 Prospects lists yesterday as previously announced, in last Thursday's column and elsewhere on our site. We apologize for any inconvenience or disappointment this may have caused anyone. But the decision was made that there was so much going on this week with the Olympics and the Triple-A World Series that something would get lost if we ran the prospect lists now. Since we couldn't do anything about the timing of the Olympics or the Triple-A World Series, the lists were the thing that had to move. They will begin a week later than originally planned. So look for those next Wednesday. (We really mean it this time.)

    Why is Eric Munson out of the Arizona Fall League? Was he injured or is there another reason?

    Anthony Lanatto

Munson is nursing a sore back and the Tigers decided to send shortstop Omar Infante to the AFL in his place. Munson's injury is not expected to require surgery, but he will have to wear a brace for a while, then go through rehab. The Tigers expect him to be healthy in time for spring training.

    What happened to Rick Elder this year? I see that he only had 48 at-bats. Was he injured the whole year again and, if so, do you think that he will still make the Orioles Top 15 Prospects list or has he dropped off? What do you think the future will hold for him?

    Jay Rankin
    Burnsville, Minn.

Elder missed nearly the entire season due to bone chips in his elbow. He's expected to be ready to go in instructional league, though.

I'd guess Elder will return to Class A Delmarva next year and pick up where he left off entering the 2000 season, before the elbow began to bother him. He was ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the system entering the season and it's hard to envision him hanging in the Top 15 after basically missing the entire season. But if he returns strong next year, he should be able to work his way back in there.

    I have been hearing a lot about magic numbers and I have been wondering what a magic number is.

    Drew
    New Fairfield, Conn.

The magic number is the number of how many more wins by the first-place team and/or losses by the second-place team are needed for the first place team to clinch their division. Assuming that all teams will play 162 games, you can figure a team's magic number by adding the first place team's wins and the second place team's losses and subtracting that total from 163.

For example, the Braves are 90-62 and the Mets are 86-66. Subtract the sum of Atlanta wins (90) and New York losses (66), which is 156, from 163 and you get the Braves' magic number, which is seven. If they win seven more games it doesn't matter what the Mets do, they can't catch the Braves. If the Mets lose seven more games, the Braves clinch. And any combination of Braves wins and Mets losses that add up to seven will mean a clinch for the Braves.

Of course, in their case it doesn't really matter, because the Mets seem to be a lock for the National League wild card and should make it to the playoffs even with a second-place finish.

    What are the minimum tools a righthander needs to get drafted, as in velocity, command, and things of that nature?

    MeatSlinger41@aol.com

It's not really possible to define a minimum set of tools, but consider there's sort of a sliding scale, with velocity against everything else. The harder a pitcher throws, the less it matters about his command and secondary pitches, because a major league organization will figure it can teach those things. Of course, clubs frequently are proven incorrect, but that's another matter.

If a pitcher doesn't throw especially hard, he'll have to show more command, better breaking stuff, etc., to catch a scout's eye. Many pitchers without an average fastball go undrafted but sign as free agents. And some of them eventually beat the odds and climb to the big leagues.

Perhaps it's debatable who has the longer odds, the flamethrower with no control or the soft tosser with command and good breaking stuff. Certainly the flamethrower will get more opportunities, because someone, somewhere will be enticed by his radar-gun readings. But there's more to pitching than just throwing hard.

September 19, 2000

It was inevitable considering the closeness of the race for Minor League Player of the Year that we'd get several letters on the subject once we announced our winner. We chose White Sox righthander Jon Rauch, but there were other worthy candidates. It's safe to say this was the closest race for the award in the 20 years we've been handing them out.

Here are a few of the letters readers sent in to back their candidates:

    I was wondering how in the world Greg Wooten can not be your Player of the Year. He was 17-3 with a 2.31 ERA and had only 15 walks in 179 innings. He also stuck out 115. I am currently in the major leagues and I know how unreal those numbers are. He should have been a lock. He also has won two games in the playoffs and also threw four shutouts. I don't even know Greg Wooten, but he has to have had the best year of any player in the minor leagues.

    Jack Cressend
    Minnesota Twins

    I'm wondering how Jon Rauch was picked over Bud Smith for Minor League Player of the Year. Let's see: Bud is 15 months younger, played at a higher level than Jon with a better record, lower ERA, three fewer innings, five fewer hits and seven fewer walks. Admittedly he had 61 fewer strikeouts but I have to believe a pitcher who is 15 months younger playing at a level higher with overall better stats has to be a better choice. On top of that, Bud is also a lefty and had two no-hitters this year.

    Mark Stockley
    Ashland, Mass.

    Even with little time played in the minors, I felt that Alex Cabrera should have been a contender for the Player of the Year.

    Carson Anthony Curcini
    Pittsburg, Calif.

Just to recap, here's a look at the final Minor League Player of the Year Watch:



PLAYER, POS., TEAM                            AVG  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO SB

Brian Cole, of, Bing./St. Lucie (Mets) .301 551 104 166 35 7 19 86 42 79 69 Joe Crede, 3b, Birmingham (White Sox) .306 533 84 163 35 0 21 94 56 111 3 Keith Ginter, 2b, Round Rock (Astros) .333 462 108 154 30 3 26 92 82 127 24 Jason Hart, 1b, Sac./Midland (Athletics) .324 564 102 183 45 3 31 125 70 119 4 Gary Johnson, of, Erie/Lake Els. (Angels) .313 524 100 164 30 6 23 118 76 122 17 Kevin Mench, of, Charlotte (Rangers) .334 491 118 164 39 9 27 121 78 72 19 Jose Ortiz, 2b, Sacramento (Athletics) .351 518 107 182 34 5 24 108 47 64 22 Carlos Pena, 1b, Tulsa (Rangers) .299 529 117 158 36 2 28 105 101 108 12 Albert Pujols, 3b, Potomac/Peo. (Cardinals) .317 476 73 151 40 7 19 94 45 45 3 Juan Silvestre, of, Lancaster (Mariners) .304 506 104 154 15 3 30 137 60 126 9 Brad Wilkerson, of, Ottawa/Harris. (Expos) .295 441 93 130 47 3 18 79 87 98 13 PITCHER, TEAM W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO
Roy Oswalt, Round Rock/Kiss. (Astros) 15 7 2.21 27 26 2 0 175 158 33 188 Jon Rauch, Winston-Salem/Birm. (White Sox) 16 4 2.66 26 26 3 0 166 138 49 187 Tim Redding, Round Rock/Kiss. (Astros) 14 5 2.79 29 29 0 0 181 139 79 142 Bud Smith, Arkansas/Memphis (Cardinals) 17 2 2.26 27 26 3 0 163 133 42 136 Greg Wooten, New Haven (Mariners) 17 3 2.31 26 26 6 0 179 166 15 115

When we give our awards, we do it like everything else with an eye on the future. The tie goes to the prospect in many senses. And this year the choice really came down to Rauch, Smith and Astros righthander Roy Oswalt.

With all respect to what Wooten did—and he had a tremendous season as we discussed in this space a couple of weeks ago—at 26 he's substantially older than those three and that was taken into consideration. I realize he's had an injury in his past that probably pushed his timetable back a couple of years, but even factoring that in, the other three come out ahead as prospects. The Mariners are definitely pleased with what Wooten did this year, but read what you want into their decision not to promote him to Triple-A at any point during the season.

Cabrera didn't factor in too strongly, though what he did for two months at El Paso was truly incredible. All of his 35 homers at El Paso came in May and June. Though it's obviously not his fault that he had been assigned to Double-A, it's safe to say he didn't belong there. It's hard to really read a guy's statistics when you know he's playing below his level. He's also 28 years old and it's hard to view him in the same light as the other players who are 7-8 years his junior.

The bottom line was that of the guys that were under strongest consideration at the end, it was Rauch and Oswalt, with Smith slightly behind. That's the order they stack up in, prospect-wise. We talked to an assortment of player-development people and the consensus was that Rauch was the highest-ceiling prospect of the group. And that gave him the edge.

Still, it was too close to call until his final start of the season, when he struck out 14 in a complete-game shutout. That was his second two-hitter at Double-A and pushed him through the tape just ahead of the other guys. The decision was literally tabled for 24 hours earlier that day because it was too close to call. Oswalt and Rauch were in a dead heat and both pitched that night. Rauch pitched better and wound up winning.

This was really a strange season for Player of the Year, because none of the preseason favorites were there at the end. That opened the floor to a lot of players who may have been overlooked early in the year and gave everyone a fairly blank slate to write their argument on. Several of them turned in strong arguments, and in a very close race we felt that Rauch made the strongest case. But we certainly can understand that some of you might have made a different call.

September 14, 2000

For everyone out there who has questions on prospects, we should have plenty of answers for you real soon. Not in Ask BA, but in the league Top 10 Prospect lists, which we'll begin posting on the site at the end of the month. We'll kick things off with the Rookie-level Arizona and Gulf Coast leagues, then work our way through Triple-A a couple at a time.

The best news for folks who love those lists is that this year they'll be twice as long as before. That's right, you'll get 20 names per league. Check back at the end of September for the big prospect smorgasbord.

As for today, we've got five questions on young players, at least one of which should appear on a list. (You figure out which one.)

    What happened now to Royals prospect Kyle Snyder? I heard he was going to pitch for Class A Wilmington in the playoffs, but I never saw him.

    George Van Buren
    Woodbridge, Va.

Snyder is hot on Paul Wilson's trail as the unluckiest man on the mound. While Wilson seems to have shaken his bad fortune, Snyder has a long road ahead of him. After missing virtually the entire 2000 season, he's already done for 2001 as well.

Snyder first began experiencing problems in spring training, with numbness in the fingers of his right hand. It took a while for the problem to be diagnosed properly, and eventually he had surgery to relieve a nerve irritation in his elbow. Once healthy, he returned to action in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he looked terrific in a two-inning stint in late August. Three days later he took the mound for Wilmington--and his comeback came to a quick end. Five pitches into that start he blew out his elbow.

Snyder had Tommy John surgery earlier this month and he'll be rehabbing for the next 12 months or so. It's possible he could return to pitching by the end of next season, but unlikely.

Snyder was the No. 3 prospect in the Royals organization entering this season. Last year, in his debut after being selected in the first round out of North Carolina, he was named the top prospect in the short-season Northwest League. Unfortunately, he's got a long road to get back to that point now.

    I saw that the Indians claimed Eric DuBose off waivers from the Athletics. I remember him being a first-round pick in 1997. He had a solid season in '98 but he took a major step backward last year. This year the A's moved him to the bullpen, but I think he had some arm trouble. Is he currently injured and do you think he can fulfill some of the promise he showed two years ago?

    T.J. Obringer
    Lawrence, Kan.

DuBose finished the season healthy, throwing 28 1/3 innings for Double-A Midland. A starter for the most part in the first three years of his career, DuBose pitched solely as a reliever this season.

I wouldn't completely dismiss DuBose at this point, but if the A's were willing to let him go, they must not have been seeing what they wanted to out of him these days. They looked at him as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter until he was hurt in 1999. Perhaps they thought the bullpen would be easier on his arm, but either way, there must have been a significant change in his stuff for them to give up on him.

    I saw that the ChiSox brought up Joe Borchard all the way to Double-A Birmingham for the playoffs, where he hit respectably in the four hole behind Joe Crede. Where will Borchard play next year? Will the Chisox bring him to the majors as an extra outfielder in the next few years, or only as a starter (one would think in place of Singleton)? They sure paid him big bucks!

    Bob LeLacheur
    Reading, Mass.

The fact that the White Sox have so much invested in Borchard really argues more in favor of a slower advancement than a hasty one. I don't think it makes any sense to move a guy quickly to justify a large contract. And most teams never would bring a prospect like Borchard to the big leagues as an extra. He shouldn't come up, and most likely won't come up, until he's ready to play every day.

I'd guess he'll return to Birmingham for the start of the 2001 season. He'll get a little more experience this fall out in the Arizona Fall League, and might even be up to the challenge of Triple-A next spring. But there's not that much sense to jump him that far, when he's only got less than half a season under his belt.

    Please give me your opinion of a local kid on the Rockies' Class A Asheville team, lefthander Colin Young. He put up great numbers this year in a setup role, but I would have thought he would have progressed through the system during the year, given his age.

    Don Jay
    Andover, Mass.

Young had an outstanding season for Asheville, there's no doubt about that. In 36 appearances, he went 3-1 with a 1.41 ERA. He struck out 91 and walked 22 in 64 innings, while allowing just 37 hits. That's pretty darn impressive, and it seems like he should have been ready for a move to high Class A Salem somewhere along the line.

Young, 22, made 19 appearances of two innings or more, including seven three-inning stints. He consistently performed well for Asheville, allowing two runs or more just twice all season. From May through July, he allowed just two runs--in three months. That's just mind boggling.

A ninth-round pick out of Fordham last year, Young was a two-way star in college, ranking fourth in the Atlantic-10 in ERA in 1999 (6-4, 3.44) and eighth in hitting (.374-6-35 in 179 at-bats). That combination could come in handy in Coors Field.

    Would you give me your thoughts on Chad Ricketts in the Dodgers organization. He played this year for Albuquerque of the PCL. I've been a big fan of his since he started with the Cubs. Stat-wise I think he had a good year but the Dodgers didn't call him up either during the year or after the Dukes lost out in the playoffs. With all the pitching problems the Dodgers had, I would have thought they would have at least given him a shot.

    Dale Walters
    Indianapolis

Ricketts, who moved from the Cubs to the Dodgers in the Eric Young trade last December, finished with a 6-2, 3.46 record for Albuquerque, with 75 strikeouts in 68 innings. He throws a low-90s sinking fastball and a solid breaking ball. The Dodgers seemed excited about him at the time of the trade.

Ricketts had a solid season, but it wasn't so overwhelming that you can't figure why the Dodgers wouldn't give him a shot in September. You can only fit so many guys on a 40-man roster before someone has to come off. There are a lot of other players out there in the same boat.

Too bad for him that Canada didn't qualify for the Olympics. Ricketts, who lives in Ontario, was the closer on Team Canada in the Pan Am Games last year, and would have been a likely choice to play for them again.

September 12, 2000

I knew it would happen, that I'd miss a more-wins-than-walks guy in recent years. But I didn't figure it would be from last season. But yes indeed, as Rany Jazayerli of Baseball Prospectus fame pointed out to me, Marlins prospect Scott Comer won nine games and walked five batters last season for Class A Brevard County.

Thanks to Rany for picking me up on that one. If you haven't ever seen Baseball Prospectus, you might want to check out their site at www.baseballprospectus.com. You'll certainly find something interesting there to chew on for a while.

Now what have we got in store for today? Let's start off with a draft/signing question.

    Can you end the suspense in the East Bay and tell us if Xavier Nady is coming back to Cal? Has he attended classes yet? Or is he still trying to get the deal he wants with the Padres? I would really find it hard to believe that he would return for his senior year, but the suspense is killing me!

    Go Bears!
    Michael Pendleton
    Oakland, CA

It looks at this point like Nady will be returning to Cal, but it's not official yet because he's yet to attend classes. The Padres offered him a $2.5 million major league deal, but the money was spread over five years. That doesn't seem like such a great deal to me. If he can reach the big leagues quickly he could make substantially more than that over a five-year period.

That's what's baffling to me about David Espinosa signing an eight-year deal with the Reds. By 2008, he could be making a lot more money if he weren't locked in to such a contract. Not that it's all about the money, but if a player holds out all summer, you have to think he's looking for the best deal he can get, and that doesn't seem like it. It doesn't sound like X will be satisfied with the deal the Padres are offering unless there are some substantial changes to it soon.

    What was up with the Hector Carrasco trade? Are the Red Sox so desperate for bullpen help that they trade promising young outfielder Lew Ford to the Twins for Carrasco? I can't remember how old Lew is, but he put up some great numbers in Augusta this year so I thought that he would be a top 15 prospect with the Red Sox if he wasn't too old for A ball. I see this trade as the Red Sox becoming desperate and having to part with a good prospect in Lew Ford. I think the Twins make off fantastic with this trade. What do you think?

    Craig Burrows

I like Lew Ford, but he's 24 years old and spent the entire season in low Class A, so he doesn't exactly fall into the category of untouchable prospect. Then again, it's not his fault that the Red Sox wouldn't move him up.

Ford, a 12th-round pick out of Dallas Baptist last year, hit .315 with 35 doubles, 11 triples, nine homers and 74 RBIs at Augusta this season. He has great speed and stole 52 bases and led the South Atlantic League with 122 runs scored.

It would be nice to see the Twins skip him up to Double-A to start the 2001 season and give him a chance against some older competition. They've shown in recent years that they're willing to move players who perform, so this could be a good trade for Ford.

This deal could prove to be a nifty pickup for the Twins down the road, but it's not really such a lopsided deal. If the Red Sox are to have any hope of winning the wild card they had to do something after losing a few pitchers to injury in recent days. The Bryce Florie injury came on the heels of Rich Garces and Hipolito Pichardo going down and the Sox have a tough schedule to finish out the season. They had to do something and Carrasco provides some depth to their pitching staff, even though he's not eligible for postseason play if the Red Sox should make it that far.

    I was wondering why I have not heard much about Daytona righthander Juan Cruz? From the little I have read he seems to be a rising prospect with great strikeout potential. What are your opinions of him and what do you predict for his future?

    Jacob Esquivel
    San Antonio, Texas

Cruz is definitely an emerging prospect. You should expect to find his name somewhere high on the Midwest League Top 10 Prospects list when we release it later this month.

In 96 innings for Class A Lansing, Cruz struck out 106 while walking 60 and allowing just 75 hits. He went 5-5 with a 3.28 ERA in that time. Not bad for a 19-year-old kid. Then he moved up to Daytona in the high Class A Florida State League and went 3-0, 3.25 in eight appearances. For Daytona he struck out 54 and walked 18 in 44 innings, while allowing just 30 hits.

Cruz, who is in his third pro season, throws in the mid-90s with a good slider and changeup.

    Who is Julio DePaula and why do you like him as a (shudder) Colorado Rockies pitching prospect?

    Thanks,
    Tom McCullough
    York, PA

DePaula is a 21-year-old Dominican righthander who struck out 187 in 155 innings at Class A Asheville this season. I didn't mean to imply that he was a bona fide can't-miss prospect when I threw his name on the list [Ask BA, Sept. 7], but I think he's an interesting player to keep an eye on in the Rockies organization.

September 7, 2000

Sometimes it's the little things that can make your day. We're having one of those days at BA World Headquarters today. For three days we've been wandering around, disoriented by the absence of box scores for the minor league playoff games. But finally, at long last, they are available on BA Online.

I'm not sure if I'm more pleased that I can go look at the box scores or that I won't have to answer the question "Where are the playoff box scores?" any more. I think it's the latter. Either way, I'm just pleased that they're there. If you haven't checked them out yet, be sure to do so, as soon as you're done reading today's column.

    Over the years, my younger brother Greg Wooten of the New Haven Ravens has never ceased to amaze me. He put up a statistic this year that I have never heard of before, and I would bet it has never been duplicated. He ended the season with more wins (17) than walks (15). In the history of baseball, has this ever happened at any level? Has it ever been close? To finish the season with 179 1/3 innings with 15 walks is absolutely ridiculous. He led the league in wins and ERA, but his best stat in my opinion is the number of walks surrendered. If you could find out I would be very grateful.

    Thank you,
    John Wooten

In 1994, Bret Saberhagen won 14 games for the Mets while walking just 13 batters and striking out 143 in 177 innings. Saberhagen nearly matched the feat last year with the Red Sox, winning 10 and walking 11.

According to the Red Sox' 2000 media guide, Saberhagen was the third major leaguer to record more wins than walks in 1994. Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson did it twice, winning 25 and walking 21 in 1913 and winning 24 and walking 23 in 1914. Cincinnati pitcher Slim Sallee won 21 and walked 20 for the Reds in 1919.

I've combed back through a few recent seasons in search of others, and found a couple of near misses. Vladimir Nunez won 10 and walked 10 in 14 games in 1996 for Rookie-level Lethbridge in the Pioneer League. And in 1992, Fernando DaSilva won 10 and walked 10 in 12 games for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Expos.

Batavia closer Brett Black won three games and walked two in 1997. That doesn't really count, but he should get honorable mention for striking out 66 in 41 innings and posting a 33-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

I'm sure it must have happened a handful of times in the minor leagues over the past 100 years, but a season like that is pretty darn rare.

Wooten's campaign was easily the best of his career, blowing away his 1996 season, when he was named organizational pitcher of the year by the Mariners after going 15-5, 3.19 at two stops. That was his first pro season, and it propelled him to No. 6 on the Mariners Top 10 the next offseason. A third-round pick out of Portland State in 1995, he climbed as high as No. 6 on the Mariners Top 10 list (1997) before slipping temporarily out of the picture due to elbow problems.

An 11-10, 4.47 season at Double-A Memphis in '97 foretold his elbow condition and by the time he finished the Arizona Fall League season with an 0-3, 8.50 record it was obvious something was wrong. He had Tommy John surgery in August 1998 and returned to action last June at Class A Lancaster. The 6-foot-7 Wooten, who throws a sinking fastball, changeup, forkball and slider, has obviously put his injury troubles behind him.

This season Wooten, 26, looked once more like one of the top pitchers in the Mariners system. He finished the season at Double-A New Haven with a 17-3 record and 2.31 ERA in 26 starts. He struck out 115 and allowed just 166 hits in 179 1/3 innings.

The Mariners are suddenly awash in pitching prospects, and it might be tough for Wooten to break into the rotation, considering that Brett Tomko and Ryan Anderson are already in line ahead of him.

    I was wondering if you could give me any information on Yuji Nerei in the Montreal Expos system. I know due to his age he really isn't considered a prospect, but he has progressed from A-ball to Triple-A this year. Do the Expos have plans for him in the big leagues? Also, is he a pioneer as a Japanese position player in American baseball? I can't recall any other Japanese position players to play Triple-A or major league ball. Is that the case or am I overlooking somebody?

    Ryan Brecker
    Rochester, N.Y.

Nerei is an interesting story. He's 26, but had never played professional baseball until this year. Some sources have his age as 22, but those have to be wrong according to a story we ran on him earlier this summer. He came to the United States in the early '90s after finishing high school in Tokyo and stayed for three years. During that time he tried out with the Blue Jays, but they didn't sign him. He returned to Japan and graduated from Hosei University in Tokyo last year.

The Expos signed him in January and he began his pro career this season, starting with a .294-3-8 showing in 34 at-bats at Class A Cape Fear. He moved up to Double-A Harrisburg, where he hit .250 with one RBI in 24 at-bats, then finally to Triple-A Ottawa, where he finished the year hitting .247-2-16 in 162 at-bats.

Nerei is 5-foot-10, 200 pounds and supposedly has a little power. He's not really a prospect, but he's living out a dream and who knows when a hot streak might net a guy a cup of coffee.

As for him being a pioneer, there have been other Japanese position players in the States before. In fact, the Red Sox have one right now. Kenichiro Kawabata, 21, signed with Boston in January 1998 and has played three seasons in the Sox organization. He split this season between high Class A Sarasota (.223-2-6 in 94 at-bats) and low Class A Augusta (.125-0-2 in 25 at-bats).

Kawabata doesn't seem likely to become the first Japanese position player to break into the big leagues. My money is still on Ichiro for that one. If Orix tries to post (auction) him this winter, he could be in the big leagues as soon as next year. Otherwise he'll probably come when he reaches free agency after the 2002 season.

    I noticed that Matt Roney, the Rockies' 1998 first-round draft choice, was 6-1 in his last 10 starts with a 1.02 ERA at Portland. I also saw where he broke the Portland Rockies' club record for strikeouts with 85. He's coming off surgery last year. What can you tell me about what the Rockies think about his future in the organization?

    Matt Peters
    Edmond, Okla.

I have to think the Rockies are pretty excited about Roney's future in the organization after he came back like he did. Roney went 7-5 with a 3.14 ERA overall for Portland this season, striking out 85 and walking 44 in 80 1/3 innings while allowing 75 hits.

Roney, the 28th overall selection in the 1998 draft, missed the entire '99 season due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. But he's back as good as new and you can throw his name onto the list of Rockies pitching prospects. It's a decent list now, though it would look a lot better if Colorado were to sign righthanders Matt Harrington and Jason Young from this year's draft. Add those two to Chin-hui Tsao, Jason Jennings, Roney, Randey Dorame, Chuck Crowder, Julio DePaula and Ryan Cameron, and you'd have to think the Rockies might finally start producing some pitchers.

September 5, 2000

Not sure how things are around the rest of the country, but around here it seems like minor league season ended at just the right time, if not a few days late. The weather has suddenly turned to football weather, with wind, rain and significantly cooler temperatures.

It actually spurred me to watch some football this weekend. Well, at least I tried. I really did. But I just didn't care about any of the games and the announcers said such stupid stuff over and over that I had to keep turning off the television. I even spent several hours reading a book (a what?).

Anyway, it's time to focus on the pennant races, not football. Here's a letter from someone who has enjoyed quite a few of them in the last 10 years, but it's hard to tell exactly what he wants from his favorite team at this point.

    As a lifelong Braves fan, I have enjoyed the past decade of excellence. Success has been built on pitching and allowing young players to struggle and mature. Didn't a young Tom Glavine lose 17 games in his first full season? I find it a little frustrating that they did not have the same patience with Bruce Chen who has been superb in Philadelphia. And wouldn't Jermaine Dye look great in right field. Time will tell how outstanding of a pitcher Luis Rivera will be for the Orioles. It seems that sometimes a team can be so concerned with slipping backward that it loses sight of how it got there in the first place (I recognize the contributions of Maddux, Pendleton, McGriff, et al). There is an old expression of one step back and two forward. Winning now is fun but building for the future is more enjoyable.

    Mike Wakefield
    Chadds Ford, Pa.

The Braves have done as good a job as any team in recent memory at building a winner and sustaining it over the past decade. The sacrifices they made in the late 1980s laid the groundwork for a lot of that success. In 1988 when Glavine lost 17 games, the Braves went 54-106. They've come a long way since then, but as a result of that, they're not in a position to train starting pitchers on the job like that any more.

To say you'd rather have them building, like they were in the late 80s, than have them winning like they are now puts you in a small minority.

I'm going to twist your own phrase around and say that a team can be so concerned with building for the future that it loses sight of what its primary goal is. What's the end goal of building a powerhouse team? Winning a championship. The Braves were arguably the most successful team of the 90s, but they won only one World Series. That somehow casts them in a light as the Buffalo Bills of the major leagues. That's not how they want to be remembered, however.

The Braves are not a team that has shown an inclination to forsake the future for a one-year run. But they do have to realize that the core of their rotation is getting a little on the old side and the window of opportunity to win with the Maddux and Glavine-led rotation is closing. Thus they have pulled the trigger on a deal or two that sacrifices future value for present.

I think there is still enough talent in the pipeline (mostly on the mound) that the Braves aren't in jeopardy of a significant slip any time soon. With Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal and Javy Lopez to build around, the Braves have a solid young nucleus to build around offensively.

Over the past 10 years the Braves have had a knack for unloading the "right" pitchers, never giving up an ace. Perhaps the Chen deal will come back to haunt them, but they obviously felt that Andy Ashby gave them a better shot at this year's Series than Chen did. Jermaine Dye would be nice, but he really didn't put it together until two years after the Braves traded him. Not every trade works out, but the Braves have done better in dealing over the past decade than most teams.

    Although he's a less than average third basemen defensively and has a bad/injured throwing arm, Tony Torcato looks very promising because of his bat. Torcato is 20 and was promoted to Double-A Shreveport, where he injured his throwing arm two games after arriving. Tony is one of three promising third base prospects in the organization (Pedro Feliz, Triple-A Fresno; Lance Niekro, drafted this year). What will the Giants do with Tony? He will not be a third basemen because of his defense and the competition, so will he be moved to another position, traded, etc?

    Jeff
    San Francisco

Feliz is closer to the big leagues now than Torcato, but if the Giants aren't ready to give up on Torcato as a third baseman, Feliz won't stand in his way. Feliz showed significant power this year, hitting 33 home runs at Fresno, but Torcato projects as a better all-around hitter. The organization isn't deep in first basemen, with Sean McGowan, who is at the same level as Torcato, being the top dog on that depth chart. If Torcato doesn't stick at third, first base is the logical move for him.

Unless the Giants really don't think Torcato can handle third, I suspect his future position might boil down to whether the Giants like McGowan or Feliz better. It will probably wind up with the three of them lining up for shots at the first and third base jobs in San Francisco, and Torcato will get one of them.

Torcato is the top prospect in the system among position players, so the Giants are unlikely to trade him away just to alleviate a perceived logjam at third base.

    The A's just traded Jorge Velandia to the Mets for Nelson Cruz who plays for in Dominican Republic. I can not find stats on the Dominican teams. Can you help?

    Rick DiViesti

Cruz led the Dominican Summer League with 15 homers and 80 RBIs this summer and finished fifth in the league with a .351 average. I don't have a scouting report on him, but those numbers, at least, are quite impressive. It's a long road from the DSL to the major leagues, but considering the A's weren't going to use Velandia, they did well to turn him into a young player to keep an eye on.

    If I have the story right, in the spring of 1999 the Reds spent about $2 million to acquire Alejandro Diaz from a Japanese team. Baseball America listed him as the Reds' No. 9 prospect last year, but his offensive numbers at Double-A Chattanooga in 2000 don't show any progress, and now I've seen reports that he may be 24 years old instead of 22 as reported. Would you still consider him a good prospect, or should the Reds be regretting the deal?

    Jeff Darnell
    Cincinnati

The Reds did pay nearly $2 million to sign Diaz, not all of which went to him. They bid $400,001 when Japan's Hiroshima Carp put him up for auction in January 1999. That only won them the right to negotiate with Diaz. He got a bonus of $1.175 million when he signed with Cincinnati.

Diaz has a long ways to go to reach Cincinnati. He hit .267 with 13 homers and 66 RBIs this year and somehow managed just 14 walks while striking out 77 times in 491 at-bats. That's not an unreasonable amount of strikeouts by any means, but the 14 walks is a tough one. You've almost got to be trying not to walk to walk just 14 times all year.

Another rough spot in Diaz' game is basestealing. He swiped 18 bags this season, but was nailed 20 times. He's got the speed to be a much better baserunner than that, but he's got to learn how to steal bases.

The Reds have added a lot of talent to the organization this year and Diaz is likely to slip out of the Top 10 when that list is compiled over the winter. He was regarded as the top center fielder in the system, though with the addition of Jackson Melian he doesn't even really have that going for him any more. Of course, with Ken Griffey in Cincinnati, it doesn't matter what either Diaz or Melian can do in center. He's realistically going to be competing for a corner job with Melian, Ben Broussard, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. And right now he probably ranks fifth in that group.

We haven't heard about the alleged difference in age on Diaz, but he'd hardly be the first one where that's come up. Two years isn't a tremendous difference, but you would normally expect a bit more from a 24-year-old in Double-A than what Diaz provided this summer. Next year will be a big season for him, because he'll either be in his third season at Double-A (he spent half of the '99 season there) or his first at Triple-A, and he's going to need to be more productive either way.


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