In between coaching summer baseball and reading "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", I can't say Barry Bonds' chase for 756 homers has captivated me much. Or at all. But I am here to answer your baseball questions . . .
For position players, the five tools are hitting, power, speed, fielding and arm strength. Among active big leaguers, the guys who immediately jump to mind for me are Ichiro for hitting, Barry Bonds for power and Jose Reyes for speed. Defensively, I'd go with Adam Everett (fielding) and Rafael Furcal (arm) among infielders. In the outfield, Andruw Jones has had the best range in recent years˜we'll let Jayson Stark and Scott Boras debate whether he has lost a step˜and Ichiro has the strongest arm. Ivan Rodriguez still sets the standard behind the plate.
For pitchers, let's look at individual pitches as well as control. The effectiveness of a fastball depends on the pitcher's combination of velocity, life and command. For sheer velocity, Joel Zumaya rates an 80, while an in-his-prime Greg Maddux also had an 80 fastball because he could locate his 90-mph heater with precision. Jonathan Papelbon won't pitch in the high 90s or top 100 like Zumaya does, but he gets so much riding life on his fastball that it's an 80 pitch well. Papelbon's fastball isn't exactly soft, either.
A healthy Chris Carpenter has as good a curveball as anyone in the majors, though I don't know if you can slap an 80 on it like you could with a younger Tom Gordon or a Bert Blyleven. Francisco Rodriguez has an 80 slider, and Johan Santana has an 80 changeup. And I'd still give the nod to Maddux for control, though he's more of a 70 now than the 80 he was in his prime.
Kainer played at the University of Texas, where opponents regarded him as a better pure hitter than fellow Longhorns outfielder Drew Stubbs, whom Cincinnati drafted eighth overall last June. If his health hadn't been in question, Kainer could have gone as high as the seventh round, but from a pro standpoint he's somewhat limited. His power is just adequate and he's limited to left field because he has a below-average arm and defensive skills. Kainer, 22, has hit .262/.329/.376 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 41 games between high Class A Sarasota and low Class A Dayton in his pro debut.
Kainer is believed to be the first athlete to play pro baseball after having a kidney transplant. A staph infection damaged his right kidney when he was two and reduced his left kidney to one-third its normal size when he was 2. His kidneys functioned well enough through his college career, but last summer he learned that he would need a transplant. His father Ron was the donor, and after the surgery was successful, Carson signed with the Reds last October.
Blackburn and Duensing combined for 39 wins in seven years in pro ball coming into 2007, and neither one has standout stuff. But both are putting up big numbers this year and they're starting to get noticed.
Blackburn, a 25-year-old righthander who signed as a draft-and-follow after the Twins took him in the 29th round out of Seminole (Okla.) JC in 2001, didn't allow an earned run in June. He has gone 9-2, 2.42 in 19 games (18 starts) between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester. He doesn't miss a lot of bats (57 strikeouts in 115 innings) but he does throw strikes (just 15 walks) and get outs (.231 opponent average, only five homers allowed). Blackburn succeeds by mixing two- and four-seam fastballs with curveballs and changeups, and he could help Minnesota as a middle reliever in the near future.
Duensing, a 24-year-old lefty, actually made the 2007 Prospect Handbook, checking in at No. 18 on our Twins Top 30. A third-round pick out of Nebraska in 2005, he underwent Tommy John surgery while with the Cornhuskers and never has regained all of his previous stuff. Nevertheless, he's effective because he too throws strikes and has a deep repertoire that includes two- and four-seam fastballs, a curveball, slider and changeup. Duensing, who also projects more as a middle reliever, has gone 10-3, 3.00 in 19 starts between New Britain and Rochester, with an 80-24 K-BB ratio, a .263 opponent average and 10 homers allowed in 111 innings.