Does 10 prospects per team only whet your appetite? How does 30 sound? If you want the more of in-depth information you're finding here on three times as many players, Baseball America's 2003 Prospect Handbook is for you.
Background: Area scout Doug Deutsch has signed six major leaguers, including 2002 revelation Kirk Saarloos and otherwise overlooked college seniors Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane. But his biggest find may prove to be Buck, who drew little attention as a Utah high school senior in 1998. He made quick adjustments to pro ball. Perhaps more than any player, Buck was hurt by Houstons lack of a high Class A club the past two years. He had to jump to Double-A Round Rock without the benefit of high Class A experience last year. The transition was made more difficult when, on the first pitch he caught of the 2002 season, he was hit on the back of his left hand by the hitters bat. Buck was unable to grip a bat properly in the early part of the season and posted his worst offensive numbers since short-season ball in 1999. Nevertheless, he made the Texas Leagues postseason all-star team.
Strengths: Few catching prospects can match Bucks all-around package. He projects as a .275 hitter with 20 homers now that he has learned to turn on fastballs and recognize breaking pitches. His defense grades out better than his offense. Buck has plus arm strength and threw out 36 percent of basestealers last year. His receiving skills are solid, though he can improve on balls outside of the strike zone. Bucks makeup may be his greatest strength. Hes a student of the game who takes charge of a pitching staff. He believes making his pitchers more successful is a huge part of his job.
Weaknesses: Somehow while catching games in the Texas heat, Buck put on 15 pounds, which made him sluggish in August and in the Arizona Fall League, where his swing lengthened and his offense tapered off. Hes starting to become a baseclogger and spent the offseason working on his flexibility and agility. Buck has been more aggressive going after pitches early in the count, but the Astros would like him to recapture the plate discipline he had earlier. His release on his throws can get inconsistent.
The Future: Buck figures to spend 2003 in Triple-A New Orleans, one of the tougher hitters parks in the Pacific Coast League. Brad Ausmus contract expires after the season, and the Astros hope Buck can carry at least part of the big league load in 2004.