Ask BA

If you haven’t been following Chris Kline’s coverage of the international talent market, you’ve been missing out. Chris’ latest story details how the Red Sox and Yankees have signed more than their share of talentPremium. Boston’s top signee was Dominican third baseman Michael Almanzar, while New York’s biggest catch was Dominican outfielder Kevin DeLeon.

    What was behind the experiment of trying Daric Barton at third base? Wasn’t he more blocked at third base with the Athletics than he is at first base?

    Doug Moore
    Fountain Valley, Calif.

Barton has bounced back strong from a disappointing 2006 season, in which he hit a career-low .259/.389/.395 and missed much of the season after breaking his left elbow in a collision at first base with Tony Womack. He started slowly this year, batting just .249 through May before exploding with a .454 June. He’s hitting .323/.409/.479 with six homers and 49 RBIs in 83 games and has re-established himself as one of the better pure hitters in the minors.

Barton was a catcher when the Cardinals made him a first-round pick in 2003, but few scouts thought he be able to play behind the plate in the majors. The A’s wanted to expedite the development of his bat, so they moved him to first base after acquiring him in the December 2004 Mark Mulder trade. However, he has hit just 38 homers in 407 minor league games and may not have the power teams want out of a first baseman. He’s also short for a first baseman at 6 feet tall, so Oakland tried to enhance his value by seeing if he can play third base.

Gold Glover Eric Chavez doesn’t have to worry, however. Barton is limited athletically and didn’t taken well to the hot corner, making nine errors and posting an .816 fielding percentage in 17 games there. He hasn’t played a game at third base since June 17 and his big league future is as a first baseman/DH.

    After one outrageously bad start in his second outing in Triple-A, lefthander Aaron Laffey has been outrageously good for Buffalo. He has won six straight decisions and has allowed just 36 hits and eight walks while striking out 41 over his last 49 innings. This is the best he’s ever pitched, at his highest level, and he’s only 22. What does the future hold for him with the Indians?

    Elliot Legow
    Youngstown, Ohio

Like Barton, Laffey has been on quite a roll as well. He has allowed just seven runs over his last seven outings and has a combined 10-4, 2.81 with a .241 opponent average, four homers allowed and a 68-19 K-BB ratio in 93 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. His most impressive stat is his groundout/airout ratio, which was 2.77 in Double-A and 2.57 in Triple-A.

The biggest difference for Laffey this year has been the addition of a cut fastball, something the Indians like to teach to their pitchers when they reach the upper levels. His overall stuff is pretty ordinary, as he also throws a sinker in the high 80s, a slider and a changeup.

Laffey likely will get his first taste of the majors in August or September, when he could help the Indians in the bullpen. Despite his success this year, I think that ultimately will be his long-term role, because he doesn’t have a true out pitch. There’s nothing wrong with that, as a lefty who throws strikes and keeps the ball down can be a valuable asset as a reliever.

    Can you compare and contrast Andrew Brackman and Padres all-star Chris Young?

    Roger K. Yoshimura
    Los Angeles

Though both stand 6-foot-10 and played college basketball, Brackman and Young are more dissimilar than you might think. When Young came out of Princeton in 2000, he had starred more as a basketball player (though he led the Ivy Leauge with a 1.82 ERA that spring). His fastball had average velocity, sitting around 88-92 mph, and while he threw his curveball and changeup for strikes, they were both fringy pitches.

By contrast, Brackman was more dominant in baseball than in basketball at North Carolina State. The quality of his stuff was clearly better than Young’s at the same stage of their careers. Brackman has shown the ability to sit at 94 mph and touch 99 mph with his fastball, and his spike curveball is also an out pitch. Even his changeup has shown plus potential at times. His command and control weren’t as good as Young’s, however.

With his size and inexperience, Young had a lot of projection remaining when he signed, but he never developed the mid-90s fastball some scouts projected. He has improved his secondary pitches and become a very effective big league starter after initially struggling in his pro career. He’s more of a crafty righthander with solid stuff, while Brackman figures to be more overpowering’"assuming he returns to full health.

The Wolfpack shut Brackman down with elbow soreness late in the spring, and rumors persist that he’ll need Tommy John surgery.  That didn’t scare off the Yankees, who made him the final pick of the first round in June.

Young also had elbow problems early in his career. He threw in the mid-80s for much of his 2001 pro debut before having arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur after the season.

" June 30 Ask BA