Ask BA

With his strong finishing kick, Yankees righthander Philip Hughes has claimed the title as the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues. In a Double-A playoff start Wednesday night, he went six innings, allowing five hits and one walk while striking out 13. He didn’™t allow more than two hits in any of his last seven starts, which is impressive even if tight pitch counts kept him from going more than five innings in any outing.

In his last eight starts, including his postseason effort, Hughes has gone 4-0, 0.90 with a 61-8 K-BB ratio, .127 opponent average and no homers allowed in 40 innings. If I were running the Yankees, I’™d test him out in September and get him on the postseason roster.

    How come Yankees outfielder Jose Tabata is considered a better prospect than Mets outfielder Fernando Martinez? Their numbers seem to be comparable, and Martinez spent a month in high Class A.

    Harris Cohen

    I understand Jose Tabata has more of a track record, but he and Fernando Martinez seem to be following similar paths to the majors: signed by New York clubs, same age, same position, same level. Who has the bigger upside, and who is a safer bet to reach that potential?

    Randy Arias
    New York

    Please compare the Jose Tabata and Fernando Martinez, both in present and future tools. Tabata gets more press right now, but who'™s better?

    Carlo Giustozzi
    Limerick, Pa.

Along with Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Martinez and Tabata were the most exciting players in the low Class A South Atlantic League this summer. That both Martinez and Tabata were just 17 only added to the intrigue surrounding them, and Martinez also was making his pro debut. Martinez hit .333/.389/.505 with five homers, 28 RBIs and seven steals in 45 games, while Tabata batted .298/.377/.420 with five homers, 51 RBIs and 15 steals in 86 contests.

Assistant editor Matt Meyers is working on our SAL Top 20 Prospects list, and he reports that very few scouts actually saw both Martinez and Tabata in action. That’™s because Martinez missed a month each with wrist and knee injuries before spending August in the high Class A Florida State League, while Tabata sat out most of the last seven weeks with a bruised thumb. Matt did find one scout who caught both young stars, and he rated Tabata slightly ahead of Martinez because he offers more with the bat. Martinez is more athletic and has a better five-tool package, while Tabata projects as an above-average right fielder, offensively and defensively.

It’™s really just a matter of preference, as there’™s little to separate the two. Martinez has a little more ceiling, while Tabata is a little safer bet because we have more history to go on. Given my choice, I’™d take Tabata, but that’™s more of a gut feel based on the line drive he smoked against Philip Hughes in the Futures Game and his slightly longer track record.

    This isn't meant as a slam on you guys, but in reading the last Ask BA, I couldn'™t help but notice that your description of Joe Koshansky was almost identical to the writeups you used to give about Ryan Howard. Baseball America had them both on the outside looking in at the Top 100 Prospects list. I thought you guys might have learned your lesson after Howard, but it seems you haven't--or at least aren'™t open to the possibility that Koshansky could be a big-time player in the majors. Why is it that BA doesn't get as excited about guys like Howard and Koshansky as you do about others?

    Bill Stinneford
    Fort Worth, Texas

BA didn’™t ignore Howard nearly as much as Bill makes it sound like we did. After his first two seasons at Southwest Missouri State and a stint with a loaded 2000 edition of Team USA, we projected him as a possible first-round pick for the 2001 draft. Howard lasted until the fifth round after hitting .271 with a school-record 74 strikeouts. He started making our annual Phillies Top 10 list after his first full season in 2002.

He just missed the cut for the Top 100 after 2003, when he led the Florida State League in homers (23) and slugging percentage (.514). The knocks on him at that point were that he was old for high Class A (23), struck out a ton (an FSL-high 151 times) and was an offense-only player whose bat absolutely would have to carry him.

Looking back, of course we wish we had snuck him onto the Top 100 at that point. But we learned our lesson with Howard back in 2004, when he bashed a total of 48 homers between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. We ranked him No. 27 on the subsequent Top 100, an indication that we did believe in him.

As for Koshansky, I said he probably wouldn’™t make the upper half of the Rockies Top 10 (mostly because Colorado has one of the best farm systems in the game) and probably would just miss the Top 100 next spring. That doesn’™t mean he’™s not a good player.

I also don’™t think the comparison to Howard holds up. Howard was identified as a top prospect early in his college career, while Koshansky went undrafted as a junior and was a sixth-round senior sign. Koshansky has good power, but Howard has off-the-charts power.

At age 23, Koshansky hit 38 homers, but most of them came in a low Class A bandbox, so it was easy to suspect that he might be an older guy beating up on youngsters and taking advantage of his ballpark. At the same age, Howard was starring in high Class A. This year, at age 24, Koshansky had 31 homers and 109 RBIs in Double-A. At the same age, Howard had his 48-homer explosion and reached the majors.

If we’™re lining up multitooled players with hitting ability against bat-only players, we’™re probably going to side with the multitooled group more often than not. I haven’™t done a study of position players who have just made or just missed the Top 100 to confirm my suspicions, or to see which group is more successful in the long run. That philosophy cost us Howard on our 2004 Top 100, but it also got Matt Kemp on last year’™s list.

    The Cubs have had eight rookie pitchers start this year. Who has the best stuff, and who is likely to make the rotation next year? Is Donald Veal a possibility next year?

    Walt Rybak
    Park Ridge, Ill.

    With the Cubs having used eight different rookie starters this season, which one has the greatest potential to have a good major league career? Can you tell me anything about Ryan O'Malley, who pitched eight shutout innings against the Astros in his major league debut?

    Bill Hecht

The eight rookie starters, in the order of how many turns they’™ve taken in the rotation: Sean Marshall (5-9, 5.27, 21 GS), Carlos Marmol (5-6, 5.35, 13 GS), Rich Hill (4-6, 4.83, 12 GS), Angel Guzman (0-4, 7.05, 8 GS), Juan Mateo (1-2, 5.10, 6 GS), Ryan O’™Malley (1-1, 2.13, 2 GS), Jae-Kuk Ryu (0-0, 14.54, 1 GS) and Les Walrond (0-0, 15.19, 1 GS). Marshall, Hill, O’™Malley and Walrond are the lefties in the group.

With the Cubs having to rely on rookies for nearly half their starts, and the performances they’™ve received, it’™s easy to see how they’™re making a run at the Royals for the worst record in baseball.

When we last discussed Hill in Ask BA, he was continuing to dominate Triple-A and struggle mightily in the majors. Since then, Hill has gone 4-2, 3.21 with a 46-17 K-BB ratio in 53 innings, becoming the pitcher Chicago hoped he would. As a lefthander with a big-time curveball and a solid fastball, Hill is best of the Cubs’™ rookie mound corps. He’™s the only lock to be in next year’™s rotation.

That title easily could have been Guzman’™s. Before he slightly tore his labrum in mid-2003, he showed three plus pitches and fine command. Since then, his stuff and location haven’™t been the same, and his health has remained an issue.

Marshall and Marmol have the stuff to be effective big league starters if they can improve their changeups. Both were rushed to the majors this year and have suffered through some growing pains, but they do have some promise. Ryu and Mateo could wind up as starters if they could continue to develop but look more like middle relievers at this point, while O’™Malley and Walrond are more journeymen than part of Chicago’™s long-term plans.

O’™Malley, 26, signed with the Cubs as a nondrafted free agent in 2002 after pitching at Lincoln Land (Ill.) CC and Memphis. His best pitch is his changeup, and he also has a mid-80s fastball and a so-so slider. He was fortunate that it was his day to pitch after Chicago used every available pitcher in an 18-inning game, so he got the promotion from Triple-A and made the most of it.

As for Veal, he could make it to Wrigley Field in 2007. A lefthander with a 91-94 mph fastball, he needs to improve the consistency of his curveball and changeup, which are plus pitches at times. He’™ll probably begin next season in Double-A but could shoot through the upper minors quickly.

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