Ask BA

In my chat on WednesdayPremium, someone asked me for some baseball book recommendations. I named a few books I liked, and then I mentioned that I was looking forward to reading Joe Posnanski’s book about Buck O’Neil, “The Soul of Baseball.” Later that day, I sat down and read it.

Posnanski is arguably the best baseball writer in the business and O’Neil was full of charm and stories about the Negro Leagues and about life, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that “The Soul of Baseball.” was a great book. I’d make a “Tuesdays with Morrie” analogy, except Leigh Montville already beat me to that comparison on the back of the book. Anyway, I enjoyed “Soul” more than “Tuesdays.” You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy “Soul,” and it’s both poignant and humorous.

    With the Top 100 Prospects about to go live next week, could you tell us who just barely missed? Say, from No. 101-110?

    J.P. Schwartz
    Springfield, Ill.

We have sent the Top 100 issue to the printer, and the list will go up on the website next Thursday. But I’ll get some message boards revved up by answering this question as a sneak preview.

When we put the Top 100 together, we don’t rank them in a definitive order beyond that. But I can reveal the players who came closest to making the cut.

There were four players who were on the list at various times, and just missed out: Reds righthander Johnny Cueto, Phillies righthander Kyle Drabek, Devil Rays third baseman Akinori Iwamura and Giants third baseman Angel Villalona. Iwamura will have a better big league career than at least a few Top 100 guys, because he’ll be in Tampa Bay’s lineup on Opening Day, but we opted for prospects with higher ceilings. On the other hand, Drabek and Villalona have huge ceilings but have proven next to nothing yet. Cueto falls in between, as he’s a little guy with a big arm who hasn’t gotten past high Class A.

Angels catcher Hank Conger, Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold and Indians lefty Tony Sipp all received two Top 100 votes from the four-man panel (me, co-editors-in-chief Will Lingo and John Manuel, national writer Chris Kline) that did most of the heavy lifting on the project, but ultimately didn’t make it. Phillies shortstop Adrian Cardenas, Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin, Cubs righty Sean Gallagher, Mets righty Deolis Guerra, Braves outfielder Brandon Jones, Royals lefty Tyler Lumsden and Diamondbacks infielder Mark Reynolds also received strong support.

    With the Top 100 Prospects list about to be unveiled, how do the top three pitching prospects stack up against the top three from previous years?

    Jeff Chin

I don’t want to give away too many Top 100 secrets in advance, but I don’t think it will shock anyone that we rank the three best pitching prospects in this order: Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox), Philip Hughes (Yankees) and Homer Bailey (Reds).

Here are the rest of the top pitching trios from the previous Top 100 lists from this decade:

2006: Francisco Liriano (Twins), Chad Billingsley (Dodgers), Justin Verlander (Tigers)
2005: Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Scott Kazmir (Devil Rays), Matt Cain (Giants)
2004: Edwin Jackson (Dodgers), Greg Miller (Dodgers), Scott Kazmir (Mets)
2003: Jesse Foppert (Giants), Jose Contreras (Yankees), Gavin Floyd (Phillies)
2002: Josh Beckett (Marlins), Mark Prior (Cubs), Juan Cruz (Cubs)
2001: Josh Beckett (Marlins), Jon Rauch (White Sox), Ben Sheets (Brewers)
2000: Rick Ankiel (Cardinals), Ryan Anderson (Mariners), John Patterson (Diamondbacks)

Matsuzaka, Hughes and Bailey are generating more excitement now than any of those trios did at the time. The closest would have been Beckett, Prior and Cruz in 2002, when Beckett and Prior ranked 1-2 atop the Top 100. Even if you want to argue that as an established Japanese major leaguer, Matsuzaka shouldn’t be considered a prospect, Hughes, Bailey and the next pitcher on the list, Andrew Miller (Tigers), still would be the best threesome of pitching prospects this decade.

We unveiled our first Top 100 Prospects list in 1990, and the only pitching threesome that seemed better at the time than Matsuzaka, Hughes and Bailey do now came in 1992. Brien Taylor (Yankees), Todd Van Poppel (Athletics) and Roger Salkeld (Mariners) ranked 1-2-3, the only time we’ve ever led off the list with three pitchers. Taylor and Salkeld got hurt, while Van Poppel never recovered from being rushed, so none of those guys panned out. But I’ll be very surprised if at least two of the current three top pitching prospects don’t become stars.

    Did righthander Pat Bresnehan make the Pirates Top 30 Prospects list in the 2007 Prospect Handbook? What do the Pirates see for his future and where do you think he’ll start the 2007 season?

    Rob Benoit
    Portland, Maine

Bresnehan did make our Pirates Top 30, checking in at No. 16. He was a fifth-round pick out of Arizona State last June after never enjoying consistent success with the Sun Devils, going 10-9, 5.01 in three years. He has a strong arm but a maximum-effort approach, so his command always had been spotty.

Short-season Williamsport did some nice work with Bresnehan, bringing his mechanics more under control. Bresnehan took to the changes and finished his first pro summer with 34 straight scoreless innings. Overall, he went 4-5, 2.25 with a 59-17 K-BB ratio in 68 innings.

Pittsburgh thinks Bresnehan can become a solid mid-rotation starter if he can refine a changeup. His main pitches are a low-90s fastball and a hard slider. He still doesn’t have the smoothest delivery, so his future very well could be as a reliever. He’ll probably open the year at low Class A Hickory.

" February 18 Ask BA