Todd Helton's unofficial record for the longest NCAA Division I scoreless-innings streak is safe again. Helton threw 47 2/3 innings without giving up a run for Tennessee in 1994, and Missouri righthander Aaron Crow entered his Friday start against Texas with a streak of 42 2/3. Crow got just one out against the Longhorns before surrendering a run, and Texas torched him for nine runs in five innings, increasing his season ERA from 0.69 to 2.05.
As evidenced by Crow's performance, this was no normal night at Missouri's Taylor Stadium at Simmons Field. Heavy winds were gusting out all night, and while Crow departed after five innings, he left with a 10-run lead. Right fielder Jacob Priday hit four homers and drove in nine runs as the Tigers won 31-12. Texas never had given up that many runs in a game.
There will be no Ask BA on April 21, but we'll return the following Monday to answer your questions. So keep them coming, and please remember to include your full name and hometown.
Darvish is a huge draw and seven years away from free agency in Japan, so it could be a while before we see him in the United States. However, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters could be tempted sooner rather than later by the amount of money they could get for his rights if they posted him. The Seibu Lions received $51.1 million from the Red Sox for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Darvish could surpass that figure.
A 6-foot-5, 190-pound righthander, Darvish is just 21 years old. Two international scouts described him as having a variety of above-average pitches. He works in the low 90s with his fastball and can reach back for 95-96 mph on occasion. He can cut his fastball, and he also throws a slider, curveball, splitter and a changeup. His ability to locate his pitches makes them play up, and he could be a frontline starter in the big leagues.
"He has plus stuff, and plus command and control to go with plus makeup," one scout said. "If I had a big game, I would be comfortable with him on the mound. He's a No. 1 starter for me. Absolutely filthy last year, and he played most of the year at 20. We'll see what happens as the innings pile on his arm, but he would be 1-1 in the draft . . .
"We're not talking a 'blow them away with a fastball and knee-wobbling stuff' kind of guy. We're talking a kid with a projectable body who knows how to pitch and is still developing physically—and is really good right now. He still might end up with jaw-dropping stuff. He's still very young."
Royals manager Trey Hillman spent the last five years as the skipper of the Ham Fighters, which included the first three seasons of Darvish's Japanese big league career. Alan Eskew, BA's Royals correspondent, asked Hillman about Darvish, and got this glowing endorsement:
"In my opinion, he's one of the best in the world at 21. He throws a fastball, curveball, slider, change, a split. He's the full package. He's got an array of every pitch you'd want to see with the exception of a knuckleball. He throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, movement that is natural and really unfair. He has velocity, 92-95, to go with it. He's a tremendous competitor, a great worker, a great teammate, handles fame very well. He doesn't like the spotlight but will endure it long enough to do what he needs to do."
Eskew asked Hillman to stack up Darvish against Matsuzaka, and Hillman opted for his former ace. Here's how the two pitchers performed at ages 18-20 in the Japanese majors:
|Darvish Vs. Matsuzaka, Ages 18-20|
Matsuzaka ranked No. 1 on our 2007 Top 100. He had a longer track record of success than Darvish, though the youngster's résumé is impressive nonetheless. In his first full season, 2006, Darvish earned the Japan Series MVP award and won the clincher as the Fighters captured their first championship in 45 years. Last season, he won the Sawamura Award as Japan's top major league pitcher after going 15-5, 1.82 and leading both leagues with 210 strikeouts in 208 innings.
Had Darvish signed with a major league club last offseason, I would have ranked him as the third-best prospect in baseball, behind Reds outfielder Jay Bruce and Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. I'd give him the nod as the best young player not under control to a U.S. team, ahead of Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel.
Because the WBC will be staged in 2009, I eliminated players who are expected to lose their rookie/prospect status this season, such as Bruce and Longoria. Nevertheless, Team USA would have no trouble fielding a formidable all-prospect team. In fact, we may see some of these guys on the 2008 Olympic team.
Matt Wieters (Orioles) would start behind the plate, and the infield would consist of Lars Anderson (Red Sox) at first base, Adrian Cardenas (Phillies) at second, Ian Stewart (Rockies) at third and Reid Brignac (Rays) at shortstop. Age and experience do matter in international competitions, which is why I went with Brignac over Mike Moustakas (Royals). Defense does too, and as much as I love Moustakas' bat, I don't believe he's a shortstop.
The outfield, from left to right, would be Travis Snider (Blue Jays), Jordan Schafer (Braves) and Austin Jackson (Yankees). Not ignoring his bust for using HGH, Schafer is still the best center-field option. Matt LaPorta (Brewers) would be the DH.
Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), David Price (Rays) and Rick Porcello (Tigers) would be the top three starters in the rotation, and Jake McGee (Rays) and Wade Davis (Rays) to finish games. If you're going to force me to use someone who likely will be a reliever in the majors to close games, I'll take Justin Masterson (Red Sox).
If all players from their nation's top professional league were ineligible, the United States would be a clear favorite. Americans grabbed 79 of the spots on our Top 100 Prospects list. The Dominican Republic (nine) and Venezuela (seven) were the only other countries with more than one Top 100 Prospect.
Baltimore drafted Maine in the sixth round out of UNC Charlotte in 2002. Conference USA's pitcher of the year as a sophomore in 2001, he had a rough encore, going 5-8, 5.61 with the 49ers as his mechanics fell apart. He quickly righted himself in pro ball and established himself as one of the Orioles' best prospects.
Entering the 2004 season, Maine ranked No. 54 on our Top 100 Prospects list. Here's our scouting report on him at that time:
Background: Maine led the minors in strikeouts (185 in 147 innings) and opponent average (.177) in 2003. In his second high Class A start, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Winston-Salem and came within a hit batter of a perfect game.
Strengths: Maine's best pitch is a 90-92 mph fastball. He already has major league command of his heater and is able to throw it to both sides of the plate as well as up and down. His fastball also has great life, and the deception in his delivery makes it look even faster.
Weaknesses: Maine can strike hitters out with his fastball alone, and he threw it 75-90 percent of the time before 2003. He employed his curveball and changeup more last year, though he still needs to use and command them better. Maintaining consistent mechanics is a key.
The Future: In his first high Class A start, Maine got knocked around a bit and told Frederick's staff that he didn't want to be paid for his work that day. The no-hitter against Winston-Salem followed. It's that makeup that makes Maine a special pitcher and could get him to the big leagues as soon as 2004. He'll open at Double-A Bowie.
Maine's stock dropped after he got knocked around in the majors in 2004 and 2005, going 2-4, 6.60 in 11 games. He wasn't much better in Triple-A either, and he had dropped to No. 16 on our Orioles Top 30 list when Baltimore traded him and Jorge Julio to the Mets for Kris Benson in January 2006. At the time of that deal we noted: "His best attribute is his command of his 90-91 mph fastball, and he also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. He got into trouble in the big leagues when he tried to be too fine with his pitches."
Maine's stuff isn't overwhelming, but once he learned to trust it, he proved he could win in the big leagues. He pitched well in the 2006 postseason and won 15 games in his first full major league season in 2007.