Ask BA

If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. Please include your full name and hometown if you'd like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column. Also, please understand that we can't respond to every question.




My ESPN.com chat last Wednesday Premium caused a furor in the Mets blogosphere. When asked whom I liked as New York's No. 1 prospect, I went with Rookie ball shortstop Wilmer Flores over Double-A outfielder Fernando Martinez.

The question came during the lightning round, which is essentially pithy questions and pithy answers, so I didn't explain my thinking. I'll do that here. Both Flores and Martinez have interesting bats, and the big difference between the two is that there's more to Flores' game than just his offense. He has a chance to play a premium position and at worse will be a third baseman, while Martinez will be a left fielder.

While Martinez has been pushed aggressively by the Mets and consistently has been very young for his leagues, he hasn't been overwhelmingly impressive since a 45-game stint in low Class A as a 17-year-old at the beginning of 2006. Flores will be 17 when he heads to low Class A next year, and I think he'll outperform Martinez. It's still very early in Flores' career, but I've had scouts compare his ceiling to Miguel Cabrera's.

    Now that Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider has become the first high school position player from the 2006 draft to make the big leagues, how would you compare his potential career path with the 2005 high school outfield class of Justin Upton, Jay Bruce, Cameron Maybin, Colby Rasmus and Andrew McCutchen? Also, how does he compare with the top high school players from 2007 (Mike Moustakas, Josh Vitters) and 2008 (Tim Beckham, Eric Hosmer)? As an aside, as good as the Orioles are looking with their recent drafts and their fleecing of the Mariners in the Adam Jones trade, do you think they regret passing on Snider for Billy Rowell?

    Bob Rankin
    Seattle

The biggest difference between Snider and the deep 2005 class is athleticism. All five of those players run well and can play center field, while Snider has below-average speed that limits him to an outfield corner. He has nothing to apologize for with the bat, however. Though he does strike out, Snider should hit for average and power while batting in the middle of Toronto's lineup for years. I'd rank him behind Upton and Bruce but ahead of the other three outfielders in terms of the long-term impact he'll have in the majors.

As a hitter, compared to the more recent premier high school players, Snider is in a class with Moustakas and Hosmer and ahead of Vitters and Beckham. Beckham does get extra credit for projecting as an above-average defender at shortstop, so as an overall prospect I'd put him in the same group with those other three players and ahead of Vitters.

Though the Orioles aren't anywhere close to giving up on Rowell, he did hit .248/.315/.368 in high Class A this season, so they'd have to prefer Snider. Baltimore didn't overdraft Rowell with the ninth overall selection in 2006, because he was held in high regard. But I did consider Snider the best prep hitter in that draft, and given that Rowell's range at third base was questionable and might necessitate a move to first base, I didn't understand why Rowell went five picks ahead of Snider.

    Yankees catcher Jesus Montero just finished a stellar season, batting .326/.376/.491 in low Class A at age 18. However, many evaluators think he'll have to move to a different position. How possible is it that he'll stay behind the plate? Also, where would be a good place for him to start 2009, high Class A or Double-A? When do you expect him to make it to the big leagues? And lastly, where do you think he'll rank on the Top 100 Prospects list?

    Rory Sayer
    Sacramento

Montero is one of the best young hitters in the minors, and he'll continue to refine his prodigious power potential as he gets older. The big question with him is the one Rory mentions: Will he be able to stay at catcher?

I suspect the answer is no. When legitimate concerns are raised about a player's ability to remain at a position when he's young, most of the time he's not going to be able to do so. The competition is going to get significantly better as he rises through the minors, meaning that a) his shortcomings are more likely to be exposed and b) the quality of other defenders at his position will increase as well.

Scouts have several issues with Montero's defense. Neither his arm strength nor his receiving stands out at this time, and he's going to have to work hard to keep his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame in shape. There's a chance that he could play left field, but I bet that Montero winds up as the Yankees' first baseman of the future. It's hard not to love his bat though, and I anticipate that he'll rank in the middle of our overall Top 100 list next spring.

Montero will be very young for whatever level he starts at in 2009, so with that in mind I'd put him in high Class A. It's easier to destroy a player's confidence than it is to rebuild it, so I'd put him where he has the best chance to succeed. If Montero hits as expected, he can move up to Double-A later in the year. I think he'll push for a spot in New York at some point in 2011, when he'll be 21.

    When I was flipping through the latest issue of Baseball America, I came to the draft signing list. I already knew the Cubs had signed 26 of their top 27 picks. They usually sign a lot of their highest, but this was better than usual. I also noticed that other teams had locked up a very substantial percentage of their draft lists starting from the top, led by the Cardinals who have come to terms with all but one of their first 30 choices. Is it unusual to see so many teams sign such a high percentage from the top of their draft lists, or have I just been missing this all these years? If it is unusual, do you think it has anything to do with the most recent draft changes?

    Mark L. Peel
    Arlington Heights, Ill.

I asked Greg Levine, BA's technology manager, to crunch the numbers in our draft databases for the last three drafts to see if Mark was on to something. As it turns out, Mark was. While there was little change in the signing percentages for rounds 1-10 and 11-20, there was a significant increase in rounds 21-30. This year, 73 percent of those players signed, compared to 64.7 percent in 2007 and 63.3 percent in 2006. The numbers in rounds 31-50 have bounced around, from 28.7 percent in 2006 to 37.6 percent last year to 34.7 percent this summer.

Below are all of the percentages:

Draft Signing Percentages, 2006-08
  2006 2007 2008
Rounds 1-10 93.7 92.2 92.9
Rounds 11-20 78.0 82.0 81.3
Rounds 21-30 63.3 64.7 73.0
Rounds 31-50 28.7 37.6 34.7
Total 59.1 64.9 64.1

I can't pinpoint any reason why the percentage in rounds 21-30 would have been up this year compared to others. While it's true that MLB told teams to worry more about ability and less about signability in 2008, most teams take fliers on players with high price tags in the first 20 rounds rather than afterward.

Teams signed about the same number of draftees this year (964 of 1,504) as they did in 2007 (943 of 1,453), and I think it was more coincidence than anything that they signed more of them from higher on their draft lists this time around. The elimination of the draft-and-follow rule means that clubs aren't taking players in the middle rounds to speculate on them rather than sign them, but that rule first disappeared in 2007 without affecting the signing rate in those rounds.

« Sept. 1 Ask BA