No. 1 Hits
We rank baseball's farm systems from No. 1 to No. 30.
We rank baseball's farm systems from No. 1 to No. 30.
Diamondbacks fans finally are getting a taste of what most expansion teams endure. Arizona went 65-97 in its inaugural 1998 season before launching a four-year run that included 375 wins, three National League West titles and a dramatic World Series championship in 2001. But the Diamondbacks subsequently have felt the Devil Rays' pain, totaling just 212 victories the last three years.
Well, we've made it through another long, cold, lonely winter, and it's time to get out to the ballpark again. Though football has tried to co-opt the special preseason feeling of baseball in recent years, seeing a bunch of fat guys flop-sweating their way through August is not nearly the same thing as spring training.
Baseball America is all about prospects, but that doesn't mean we don't have a soft spot for the scrubs. And now we have a movie for the guys at the end of a roster: "The Benchwarmers," in theaters April 7, features an eccentric billionaire (Jon Lovitz) who backs a three-man team of adult misfits (Rob Schneider, Jon Heder and David Spade) to take on young bullies in a Little League tournament. It's typical Adam Sandler slapstick—"If you build it, nerds will come," Lovitz's character declares—about the 99 percent of us who sit and watch as the stars get to play. I sat down with Schneider and Lovitz to talk about the movie, their own Little League days, and Reggie Jackson destroying federal property.
One of fans' great misconceptions (and there are a few) with our organization Top 10 Prospects lists is that we are disparaging anyone who doesn't make the cut. You wouldn't believe some of the e-mails we get or some of the blog posts that our decisions inspire.
Amazing as it might seem, Baseball America didn't start rating the best prospects in baseball until its 10th year of existence. We had been ranking prospects by their minor league and their organization for years, and we broke them down by position during spring training.
Teams may have nowhere to go. For what seems like years I've talked about how one of the biggest drivers in the continuing minor league attendance boom has been the minors' willingness to move into new markets.
The instability surrounding the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, which we've written about several times in the past couple of years, looks like it will finally cost the club its most valuable asset after the 2006 season: the affiliation with the Phillies.
Shawn Smith wasn't able to chat. He was heading into a luncheon sponsored by a local civic organization and had to get through security. Every minor league general manager in America spends a good number of his afternoons at similar luncheons. Not many have to go through security first, but then again, not many get to see the President as their featured speaker.
The story of Roland Hemond's career is one that would make even Horatio Alger blush. Hemond's path to becoming one of baseball's most respected executives involves a stint in the Coast Guard, a chance spring training meeting with a man who was blinded by mustard gas in World War I, and a foot in the door with a minor league club in Hartford, Conn., in 1951.
As the pieces of the upcoming World Baseball Classic gradually fall into place, one of the biggest appeared at the Winter Meetings: the Team USA manager will be Buck Martinez, the current ESPN analyst and former manager of the Blue Jays. The prospect of managing the greatest collection of talent in the history of baseball, with names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and more, has left the garrulous Martinez anything but speechless. I sat down with Martinez to discuss his evolving juggernaut and any plans to bribe the Rocket out of retirement.
The day when the Hall of Fame balloting gets announced is about phone calls: mainly, to the lucky former players who learn they'll be in Cooperstown forevermore. But this year the most notable phone call for me was the one to Hall of Famer George Brett, who after stepping off a plane in Boston wanted to know the voting results. I had the pleasure of getting his immediate and candid thoughts on Bruce Sutter's selection, his continuing vigil for Goose Gossage and Bert Blyleven, and whether his old pal John Schuerholz ever has a shot.
I've seen it. Really. While in Los Angeles on business, I stopped by Major League Baseball's new Urban Youth Academy in Compton, an immense (and long-overdue) step in revitalizing inner-city baseball. When it officially opens on Feb. 28, after more than five years of planning, the $10 million facility will allow thousands of youngsters a chance to learn baseball from former pros and play games on big league quality fields, complete with stands and lights. All for free. Its director is Darrell Miller, the former Angels catcher and farm director, who gave me a walking tour of the still under construction complex in late January. Among the dirt and cinderblocks lies the future of urban baseball.
ike Marshall fashions himself a baseball pariah. The 63-year-old former ironman pitcher—who in 1974 pitched in 208 innings over 106 games to set records for a major league reliever—now coaches amateur pitchers at his facility in Zephyrhills, Fla., using such unconventional methods and criticizing other pitching experts so vehemently that he claims his students are blackballed by major league organizations. Few dispute that Marshall, who owns a doctorate in exercise physiology from Michigan State and has done tremendous other research on pitching arms and injuries, has some interesting ideas. I spoke with Marshall about those ideas, the contentiousness with which he shares them, and his vow to change pitching forever.
If the World Baseball Classic has a face, it is not the anticipatory gaze of the baseball beancounters, or the worried mug of general managers everywhere. It is that of Dontrelle Willis. No player from any country has expressed more unbridled joy for participating in the upcoming extravaganza. (His "I just hope I make the team!" at last year's all-star press conference pierced the hearts of even the most cynical scribes.) With the event finally at hand, I talked with Willis about pitching for his country, his role on Team USA and the revamped Marlins, and scoring freebies from HBO.
This year's edition of the Prospect Handbook contained a record 902 scouting reports—we crammed 2005 first-round picks Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey into the appendix after they signed late—but there still were plenty more where those came from. Every year, a few reports end up on the cutting-room floor. Players get bumped out of the book for a variety of reasons, such as trades or injuries. Then there's a case like the Marlins, who spent the offseason trading veterans for prospects, leading us to revise their top 30 list several times. Below are 42 players, listed alphabetically, who were in the Handbook at one point but didn't make the final cut. We like to call them "The 31st Team."
Billy Beane had to make his most challenging decisions as a general manager this offseason. He still had the rotation nucleus that has allowed the Athletics to be a factor in the American League West despite one of the lower payrolls in baseball. However, he also had to deal with reality. He dealt Tim Hudson to Atlanta and Mark Mulder to St. Louis, receiving a package of prospects in both deals.
If baseball was like football, and players were required to spend three years in college before becoming draft-eligible, Clemson wouldn't rank sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 36th overall in our College Preview. The Tigers also wouldn't be shut out on our preseason All-America teams. Here's what our first team would look like.
Here's an all-star team of National League prospects who couldn't quite make the Top 10 cut. Last year's version of this column included five players who graduated to Top 10 status this time around: Rockies third baseman Jeff Baker, Cubs outfielder Jason Dubois, Braves outfielder Kelly Johnson, Tigers first baseman/catcher Chris Shelton and Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder.
The prevailing wisdom these days is that college players are a better investment than high schoolers. The number of prepsters taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft is rapidly shrinking, from 46 percent of the picks in 2000 to 39 percent in 2002 to 30 percent (believed to be an all-time low) last year. At the same time, however, high school players dominate the top of our Top 100 Prospects list. They claim 14 of the first 20 spots, compared to three each for college and international signees. A year ago, the prep influence was more pronounced, as the top 20 included 18 high schoolers versus one collegian and one foreigner.