Early Judgments On ’04 Draft Put A’s On Top
If you need a progress report on each team's 2004 draft haul, you've come to the right place.
If you need a progress report on each team's 2004 draft haul, you've come to the right place.
In the last 15 years, the only significant change to the draft was the reduction from unlimited picks to 50 rounds in 1998. So don't hold your breath that the sweeping draft and minor league proposals discussed in August all will come to fruition.
The soap opera "As Hochevar Turns" continues to play out, with no apparent resolution in sight.
Precious few minor league leaders from 1995-2004 have developed into productive big leaguers.
It's time for me to analyze each team with Draft Report Cards, it's time for me to critique my annual mock 10-round draft. And "ugh" is the first word that comes to mind of my first-round pick.
General manager Kenny Williams, who ran the system as the White Sox farm director for six years before his promotion, astutely packaged prospects to acquire a dozen more members of his championship club.
If I were running a team and looking for a GM, the No. 1 attribute I'd value would be the ability to judge talent. When it comes time to make the call on player moves, I'd want my GM to have the knowledge and experience to make intelligent, confident decisions. Yet four of the five clubs who filled GM vacancies this offseason passed on attractive in-house candidates with a proven track record of talent evaluation. None of them got beyond a perfunctory interview, if even that.
Here's our annual all-star team of prospects who weren't quite good enough to make the National League Top 10 lists that have run in these pages. Last year's version included Cubs outfielder Matt Murton, who hit .343 in the minors and .321 in the majors, plus Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins and Pirates infielder Freddy Sanchez, who had solid debuts as big league regulars.
Baseball America's debate between two scouts and two statistics analysts, the second installment of which begins in issue 0503, could be seen to concern high school pitchers, Double-A hitting prospects, the modern confusion between DIPS and dip. But that is only a smokescreen. It is about humility. Constructiveness. Debate. These are the fibers that, braided together, will lift these two groups from the muck of obstinacy and contempt into an air more healthy and breathable—and, ultimately, sharable.
No doubt, the Red Sox' 2004 championship came along just when New England—as well as the thousands of fans across the country who now wear their B hats in public—was about to blow. No professional sports franchise, for so long, so determined the mental state of its populace, whose release from psychological bondage required memoirs to confirm the separation, just before they started eating each other's limbs.
Barry Zito's career is at a crossroads. Two years after his 23-5 record for the Athletics won him the American League Cy Young Award at age 24, Zito spent last season devolving into an average starter with an 11-11, 4.48 record. And as he prepares for 2005, with Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder traded, Zito finds himself the sole remaining member of the A's vaunted Big Three, an old man on a rotation rebuilt with youngsters Rich Harden, Joe Blanton and Dan Meyer. In this first installment of Going Deep—Alan Schwarz' new column in which he will regularly sit down with a baseball newsmaker for a one-on-one interview—Zito discusses his fall from stardom, his approach to 2005, and being "a prisoner of my own mind."
Considered a possible (if not probable) Cy Young Award winner coming off his 18-6 breakthrough performance in 2003, Mark Prior spent the season's first two months on the disabled list with a mysterious Achilles strain and then balky elbow. Even when he returned, the once picture-perfect pitcher looked anything but, his suddenly sketchy control leaving him oddly hittable and with a final 6-4, 4.02 record. The most promising pitcher in years had lost a lot of his luster. Prior enters 2005 comparatively under the radar, trying to reassert himself on a Cubs team that enters the post-Sammy Sosa era relying on their rotation more than ever before.
When the Red Sox hired Bill James as a consultant several years ago, some complained that allowing an outside stathead influence over player moves would run the club into the ground. They don't seem to be complaining anymore. James' moving from the outside to the inside has had other effects, though—including a recent essay that repudiates some of his theories.
It was a good day for San Diego, a bad day for baseball as a whole. Sandy Alderson's exit from Major League Baseball in early May, to return to his club roots as president of the Padres, comes after seven exemplary years of getting baseball's house in order: fixing the umpire mess and the strike zone, restoring some order to the amateur draft, speeding up game action and more. The longtime Athletics executive, Alderson brought intelligence and pragmatism to MLB's central office and substantially improved the modern game. On one of his final days with MLB, Alderson sat down to discuss the Padres, the work he did (and couldn't do), and what lies ahead at MLB.
We've waited so long for the World Baseball Classic—the world-cup style tournament featuring major leaguers playing for their home countries, just announced for next March—that it seems sadistic to waste much time here. Let's instead jump right in with Tim Brosnan and Paul Archey, MLB International's two prime architects for the event, as they discuss the road to now, Cuba's prognosis and just how in the world they're going to get this thing done.
One decade ago, Jason Varitek was all but a baseball pariah, a player who turned down the Twins as a first-round pick, held out for another 10 months before signing with the Mariners, and began his professional career with most scouts and executives wondering whether he had the heart to be a pro. They're not wondering anymore. Varitek has evolved into one of the most respected players in the game, the linchpin of the defending World Series champion Red Sox, and a player whose only questions surrounding him resemble, "How can he get even better at age 33?" Varitek sat down at Yankee Stadium to discuss his storied preparation, his evolving relationship with the Red Sox and if he's ever wanted to tell baseball, "I told you so!"
All last winter, New York buzzed about the new Mets—Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and more. But now they're talking more and more about the young Mets, namely David Wright and Jose Reyes. Discerning eyes are recognizing that it's Wright and Reyes, both 22, who are the foundation of this rapidly improving franchise. In his first full season, Wright was hitting .305-10-34, with power and discipline. And Reyes, after a year of persistent injuries, was batting .270 out of the leadoff spot while setting basepaths ablaze with seven triples and 16 steals. All this while forming one of the youngest left sides of the infield in major league history. Wright and Reyes sat down together at Shea Stadium to talk about growing up in the spotlight, following the Mets' draft and being all-star luggage-carriers.
Brian Cashman went on national television and used the E word: embarrassing. His $200 million Yankees spent most of the first half fluttering around .500, incurring the wrath of the Gotham press and the guffaws of Yankee haters everywhere, who delight in how this team of aging stars suddenly looks only aged. With a roster he calls "inflexible" and a farm system with few prospects, Cashman is facing the most challenging summer of his career—with the Boss circling overhead. He sat down to discuss his team's wild inconsistency, his valuation of his thin farm system and his future with the Yankees, now as uncertain as ever.
He's played an air-traffic controller, a psychotic murderer and even a really bad Santa. But in real life, Billy Bob Thornton plays one heck of a baseball fan. The Academy Award-winning actor, an immense Cardinals fan since his youth in rural Arkansas, carries his love for the game to each of his movies—none more so than the new remake of "Bad News Bears," which opens nationwide on July 22. Thornton naturally plays the tattooed and profane boozer who coaches a group of Little League goofballs to their championship game. Very true to the original 1976 hit, the movie adds dozens of updated one-liners—he calls his foreigner-infested squad "a damn League of Nations"—to keep today's kids laughing (and parents covering their ears). I sat down with Thornton recently to discuss "Bad News Bears," his ill-fated professional pitching tryout, and learning his nasty slider from Bob Gibson.
Trevor Hoffman, who failed as a position player deep in the Reds system 15 years ago, has since gone on to become one of the best closers in baseball history. The longtime Padre saved his 400th game early this season and is churning his way toward Lee Smith's record of 478, his changeup as baffling as ever. Off the field, the 37-year-old Hoffman is far more down the middle than his pitches—he's one of the straightest shooters in the big leagues. He sat down to talk about the best role for a closer, his possible Hall of Fame speech and being the son of a British ballerina.