Ask BA

Poor Chris Snelling. He was ready to hit in the majors by the time he was 20, but he hasn’t played a full season as a pro because of a series of injuries to his left hand and wrist (2000), right ankle (2001), right thumb and left knee (2002), left knee again (2003), right wrist (2004) and the left knee one more time (2005).

Snelling missed the first month of this season rehabbing the left knee, and finally made it back to the majors on Wednesday. Without getting into a game, he went back on the disabled list Thursday with an impingement in his left shoulder. Snelling is a career .318 hitter in the minors and he’s still just 24, but it’s impossible for the Mariners to count on him because he just can’t stay healthy.

Since we discussed Rich Hill in the last Ask BA, the Cubs lefthander has continued his Triple-A/major league Jekyll/Hyde performance. In his last start at Iowa, he pitched seven shutout innings against Memphis, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out 14. That earned him a callup to replace the injured Sean Marshall in the Chicago rotation’"and Hill promptly bombed last night against the Cardinals. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on six hits and three walks while striking out just one. His updated numbers at the game’s two highest levels:

Triple-A: 12-2, 2.61, 158 IP, 213 K, 34 BB, .201, 14 HR
Majors: 0-6, 9.21, 46.1 IP, 33 K, 35 BB, .293, 9 HR

    Both Francisco Liriano and Jered Weaver have been unbelievable as rookie pitchers. Obviously, Liriano has the higher potential, but as of right now, who would you consider the better pitcher?

    C.J. Keller
    Prattville, Ala.

Let’s not stop there. We’ll open this question to include all of the rookie pitchers who have turned in strong performances this year. Liriano, Josh Johnson and Justin Verlander currently rank 1-2-3 in the majors in ERA among all pitchers. Jonathan Papelbon leads the big leagues in saves. Weaver is the first rookie since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 to win his first seven major league starts. Jon Lester, Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez and Joel Zumaya aren’t even the best-performing rookie pitchers on their clubs, but in some years what they’re doing would put them at the top of the rookie class.

As for in whom I’d place the most faith at exactly this moment, Papelbon has been the most untouchable of the rookie pitchers, and he has been from day one of this season. Of course, it’s easier to dominate in shorter relief stints. If we limit the choice to starters, I’d give Liriano just the slightest edge. Weaver is 7-0, 1.15, with a .159 opponent average and 40 strikeouts in 47 innings. Liriano’s overall numbers are sick enough, but he has been even better as a starter: 11-2, 1.59 with a .166 opponent average and 93 strikeouts in 86 innings.

For the long term, I’d rank the top five from this group in this order: Liriano, Papelbon, Verlander, Lester, Weaver. All those proclamations that Liriano has better stuff than Johan Santana have proven to be more than just hype.

    Andrew Miller is the third straight first-round draft choice whom the Tigers have had difficulty in signing. Who has more leverage, Miller or Detroit? Will he sign or will this turn into a Luke Hochevar situation?

    Steven Silverman

I addressed this situation in our latest issue’s Draft Dish, which should be posted online in the near future. Tigers fans need not worry. The sixth overall choice, Miller almost certainly will sign with Detroit rather than re-enter the next year’s draft, as Hochevar did after the Dodgers made him a supplemental first-round pick in 2005.

The Tigers’ previous two first-rounders, Justin Verlander and Cameron Maybin, took longer than expected to sign. But Miller’s negotiations are proceeding as expected. As the consensus top talent in 2006, he likely will command the highest bonus in the draft this side of Jeff Samardzija’s record $7.25 million, which was the result of Samardzija’s NFL potential. Major League Baseball prefers that the biggest bonuses get announced late in the summer, theoretically so they won’t affect other negotiations, and Miller wasn’t likely to sign before August or September.

“Obviously, going into it, we knew it would probably be a lengthy negotiation,” Detroit scouting director David Chadd said. “You never know, but we didn’t think he was going to sign the next day.”

Neither side really holds leverage over the other in these negotiations. The Tigers don’t want to lose their first-round pick, and Miller wants to start his pro career and will be paid handsomely. In the end, expect him to receive a deal similar to that received by Mike Pelfrey. The top pitching prospect in the 2005 draft, Pelfrey fell to the No. 9 pick and got a $3.55 million bonus as part of a four-year, $5.25 million contract with the Mets.

    There hasn’t been an update on Matt Harrington in a while. The last I heard, he was pitching for the Fort Worth Cats in the independent American Association. Is there no big league organization that would be willing to sign him for the peanuts I assume he would take these days?

    Eric Rothfeld
    Livingston, N.J.

Harrington is back for his fourth season with the Fort Worth Cats. In 27 relief appearances, he has gone 3-1, 2.82 with a 42-21 K-BB ratio, .172 opponent average and one homer allowed in 38 innings. But it’s unlikely he ever will play for a major league organization at this point.

The seventh overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Rockies, Harrington was selected in the next four drafts. After the Yankees took him in the 36th round in 2004, he has been bypassed the last two years, making him a free agent eligible to sign with any club. No team has bitten on that opportunity because his stuff isn’t close to the same as it was when he was the best prospect in the draft six years ago.

Harrington had a 94-95 mph fastball and touched 98 as a high school senior. But after negotiations with Colorado went horribly awry, he never was the same after a long layoff. Now he’s a 24-year-old righthander who usually operates at 85-87 mph and doesn’t have a plus pitch. That’s not an attractive combination for big league clubs.

One of the best stories Baseball America ever ran was Alan Schwarz’ breakdown of the entire Harrington saga. To read that, you can click here.

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