Enough with the talk about realigning MLB's divisions. Because the Yankees outspend the other 29 teams by such a wide margin, baseball has one of two choices. Keep another financial juggernaut (the Red Sox) in the AL East, which makes it far from automatic that New York will win the division but makes it difficult for the other teams to claim the wild card; or split up the Yankees and Red Sox, which might allow each club to run roughshod over a division but would make it easier for the other AL East teams to make a run at the postseason.
Baseball's league/division structure is never going to be perfectly balanced, because the teams are never going to be perfectly balanced. What changes might seem equitable today easily could look ill-conceived five years from now. And don't get me started on the ludicrous concept of radical realignment, where teams would change divisions each year.
Harper went 7-for-14 with four homers last week, improving his overall numbers to .431/.528/.931 with 12 homers and a 21-22 K-BB ratio in 31 games. As talented as Harper is, those numbers are still astonishing for a 17-year-old who should be a high school junior, not to mention that he's playing in a wood-bat conference.
The Scenic West Athletic Conference, which also consists of Colorado Northwestern, Eastern Utah, Salt Lake, Southern Idaho and Western Nevada, isn't anywhere close to the level of the Arizona or Gulf Coast leagues, the lowest rungs on the U.S. minor league ladder. It's not particularly close to even a mid-level NCAA Division I conference. Western Nevada is a juco power and Salt Lake and Southern Idaho are respectable, but the other five teams in the SWAC combined to have four players drafted in 2009 and three in 2008. Southern Nevada also plays a tough non-conference schedule that includes teams like Chipola (Fla.), Cypress (Calif.) and Yavapai (Ariz.), but the quality of Harper's opposition will take a quantum leap when he enters pro ball.
Harper likely won't play summer ball, because he would risk much more (through possible injury or lack of performance) than he could gain. He's already the No. 1-rated prospect for the 2010 draft, and he can't improve on that position. I'd love to see him in the Cape Cod League, though, facing better pitchers than he ever has before.
If Harper does play baseball during the summer, he most likely would appear with the U.S. national 18-and-under team. Harper won a gold medal with Team USA at the Pan American Junior Championships last fall, and the 2010 World Junior Championships are scheduled for July 23-Aug. 1, well before the Aug. 16 signing deadline.
Matzek, a product of Capistrano Valley High (Mission Viejo, Calif.), was the top high school pitching prospect in the 2009 draft and ranked as high as No. 2 (behind Stephen Strasburg) on some clubs' draft boards. He slid to the Rockies with the No. 11 pick because of signability concerns and ultimately agreed to a club-record $3.9 million bonus. Taillon, who stars for The Woodlands (Texas) High, is the best pitching prospect in this year's draft. He's the consensus No. 2 overall prospect available (behind Bryce Harper).
Coming into their senior seasons, Taillon would have ranked ahead of Matzek. But considering how Matzek finished his senior year, Taillon's inconsistency this spring (a 19-strikeout no-hitter last Tuesday notwithstanding) and the fact that Matzek is a lefthander, I'd give Matzek the edge. That's really splitting hairs, however.
With a sturdy 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame and a smooth delivery that he repeats well, Matzek was throwing in the upper 90s last May. Both his curveball and slider are potential plus pitches. Taillon is bigger (6-foot-7, 230 pounds), which makes it more difficult to keep his mechanics in sync. He has a little more consistent fastball velocity than Matzek, and a pair of devastating breaking balls as well.
Both Matzek and Taillon have ceilings as No. 1 starters. It's too early to know how much signability may affect Taillon's draft status, but he's in the mix to go first overall to the Nationals—and no high school righthander ever has been the No. 1 pick. On talent alone, there's no reason he should get out of the top five picks, though the same was true of Matzek a year ago as well.
Rest easy, Matt. Though the Washburn trade didn't work out as the Tigers hoped, I don't think Robles will haunt them.
He's a decent prospect with good velocity for a lefthander. Robles usually operates at 90-92 mph and maxes out at 95, and he'll show an intriguing curveball and changeup from time to time. But he's small (5-foot-10, 160 pounds) and lacks consistency with his secondary pitches and his control, so he projects as more of a reliever than a starter. Robles could become a useful bullpen piece, but probably not more than that.