Ask BA is a day late this week because I spent Monday traveling back from the Super Bowl, which I attended as a Steelers fan. What a spectacle. I've never been at a sporting event with that much constant energy in the stadium. As a bonus, I got to see Bruce Springsteen at halftime. (It wasn't The Boss at his best, but what did you expect for a Super Bowl halftime show? It was still 12 tremendous minutes.)
I also got to catch up with former BA senior writer Alan Schwarz, who was covering the game for the New York Times, and meet Mike Marinaro (who has asked several Ask BA questions over the years) and his wife and daughter. Investing in a Super Bowl XLIII ticket is a decision I'll never regret.
The ranks of the compensation free agents are finally thinning out, dropping from 12 to eight in the past week. Jon Garland (Type B) signed with the Diamondbacks, netting the Angels a sandwich pick. Jason Varitek (Type A) re-signed with the Red Sox. Pending physicals, Brian Shouse (Type B) will join the Rays and give the Brewers a supplemental first-round choice, and Oliver Perez (Type A) will return to the Mets.
Below is the current draft order, and the list of unsigned compensation free agents.
10. Nationals (for failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Aaron Crow)
20. Blue Jays
21. Mariners (if they fail to sign 2008 first-rounder Joshua Fields)
24. White Sox
25. Angels (from Mets for Francisco Rodriguez, A)
26. Angels (from Yankees for Mark Teixeira, A)
28. Mariners (from Phillies for Raul Ibanez, A)
29. Yankees (for failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Gerrit Cole)
30. Red Sox
33. Rockies (from Angels for Brian Fuentes, A)
Supplemental First-Round Picks
34. Mariners (Ibanez)
35. Rockies (Fuentes)
36. Dodgers (Derek Lowe, A, to Braves)
37. Blue Jays (A.J. Burnett, A, to Yankees)
38. Brewers (C.C. Sabathia, A, to Yankees)
39. Angels (Teixeira)
40. Angels (Rodriguez)
41. Reds (Jeremy Affeldt, B, to Giants)
42. Rangers (Milton Bradley, B, to Cubs)
43. Diamondbacks (Brandon Lyon, B, to Tigers)
44. Brewers (Brian Shouse, B, to Rays)
45. Angels (Jon Garland, B, to Diamondbacks)
49. Pirates (for failure to sign 2008 second-rounder Tanner Scheppers)
53. Dodgers (from Braves for Lowe)
70. Brewers (from Yankees for Sabathia)
76. Yankees (for failure to sign 2008 second-rounder Scott Bittle)
101. Blue Jays (from Yankees for Burnett)
Supplemental Third-Round Picks
108. Astros (for failure to sign 2008 third-rounder Chase Davidson)
Remaining Compensation Free Agents
Ari: Juan Cruz (A), Orlando Hudson (A).
Bos: Paul Byrd (B).
CWS: Orlando Cabrera (A).
KC: Mark Grudzielanek (B).
LAD: Manny Ramirez (A).
Mil: Ben Sheets (A).
Min: Dennys Reyes (B).
Bumgarner went 10th overall in the 2007 draft, while Price went first. Bumgarner led the minor leagues in ERA last season, but Price won Game Two and saved Game Seven of the American League Championship Series. Bumgarner is the No. 2 pitching prospect in baseball . . . behind only Price.
Bumgarner is a tremendous prospect with huge upside, but Price is on another level. He's a once-in-a-generation pitching prospect whose stuff, polish and makeup combine to make him as can't-miss as a pitcher can be. I can't remember a lefthanded pitching prospect as good as Price in the 20 years I've been covering baseball—Brien Taylor wasn't nearly this refined—and he has to be the best going to back at least as far as Floyd Bannister, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1976 draft.
Bumgarner and Price have comparable fastballs. Both throw in the mid-90s with excellent life and command. Price, who's four years older, separates himself with his secondary pitches. The Red Sox looked helpless against Price's upper-80s slider in the playoffs, and while Bumgarner made a lot of strides with his slider last year, it's not as consistently devastating. Neither has needed to rely on a changeup much to this point in their careers, though Price's has more deception and fade.
Bumgarner has the potential to be a No. 1 starter. Price's career still has to unfold, but reaching the Hall of Fame seems like a reasonable goal.
The process for ranking free agents is terribly flawed. It was developed as part of the 1980-83 Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified after the 1981 strike, and hasn't changed since. Baseball tightened the classifications in the most recent CBA (Type A free agents are now the top 20 percent of players at a position, down from 30 percent; Type B are now in the 21-40 percent group, down from 31-50 percent) and changed the compensation (Type B free agents now yield a supplemental first-round pick rather than a choice from the signing team; Type A free agents still yield both), but the statistical formula is too simplistic.
Players are sorted into position groups by league: catchers; designated hitters, first basemen and outfielders; second basemen, third basemen and shortstops; starting pitchers; and relief pitchers. Then they're evaluated based on their average rank at their position in a variety of categories over the past two seasons.
All hitters are graded based on their plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, home runs and RBIs. Fielding percentage and assists also are taken into account for catchers, and fielding percentage and total chances also are considered for second basemen, third basemen and shortstops. The categories for pitchers are starts, innings, wins, winning percentage, ERA and strikeouts for starters; and relief appearances, innings, wins plus saves, ERA, hits per nine innings and strikeout/walk ratio for relievers.
Though Varitek had a horrible 2008, he had a solid season in 2007 and his pertinent statistics compare well to those of other American League catchers, who aren't a bunch of offensive juggernauts. Varitek had 1,001 plate appearances (fifth among 32 AL catchers), a .238 average (19th), .341 on-base percentage (sixth), 30 homers (third), 111 RBIs (fifth), a .995 fielding percentage (sixth) and 81 assists (15th). His average rank in those categories is 8.429, which puts him fifth among AL backstops, and in the top 20 percent. Playing time factors heavily into four of those categories (plate appearances, homers, RBIs, assists), and it's no coincidence that the six catchers who saw the most action in the AL the last two years are also the league's six Type A catchers.
Bradley was an all-star in 2008, when he led the AL in OBP (.436) and OPS (.999), but his lack of durability (just 187 games over the last two seasons) worked against him just like it worked in Varitek's favor. Bradley did very well in the percentage categories, ranking first in batting (.316) and OBP (.425). The counting numbers get adjusted to compensate for time on the disabled list, but even a 20 percent boost didn't help Bradley enough in plate appearances (753 adjusted to 906.84, seventh), homers (35 adjusted to 42.09, fifth) and RBIs (114 adjusted to 137.11, seventh). His average rank was 4.200, which put him fourth among the 12 DHs and ultimately 25th among the 108 DHs, first basemen and outfielders in the league.
The system would be better if it reflected more on the quality than the quantity of the performance. Since staying healthy is a desired skill, players shouldn't get extra credit if their numbers were reduced by time on the disabled list.
It's not dumb luck. There's at least a little good fortune involved in signing future big leaguers, but the Braves do a fine job across the board in scouting and player development.
Atlanta knows its backyard (the Southeast) as well as any team does, and that's where it found McCann (a second-round pick out of a Georgia high school in 2002), Saltalamacchia (a sandwich pick from a Florida high school in 2003) and Flowers (a 33rd-round draft-and-follow from Chipola, Fla., JC in 2005, whom they also drafted out of a Georgia high school a year earlier). While the majority of draftees who sign come from colleges, the Braves mine high schools and junior colleges (where all three of those players came from) very efficiently. They also have a strong international program, which produced Ramirez, signed out of Venezuela in 2002.
McCann has a firm grasp on Atlanta's catching job, especially after the trades of Flowers (for Javier Vazquez), Ramirez (for Bob Wickman) and Saltalmacchia (for Mark Teixeira). But the Braves have more catching coming, as three backstops made our Atlanta Top 30 Prospects list in the 2009 Prospect Handbook.
Braeden Schlehuber (No. 18), a fourth-round pick from the CC of Southern Nevada last June, is more athletic than most catchers and has offensive and defensive potential. Matt Kennelly (No. 20), originally signed as a pitcher/corner outfielder out of Australia in 2005, is learning as a hitter but threw out 57 percent of basestealers last season. Christian Bethancourt (No. 30), a Panamanian signed for $600,000 last March, is still developing physically but has intriguing catch-and-throw skills.