Ask BA

Only 12 days until the signing deadline for draft picks, and we still have 13 first-rounders who haven’t come to terms. Only six players are known to have signed for more than MLB’s bonus guidelines, with outfielder Tyler Henley (eighth round, Cardinals) and righthander Jiwan James (22nd round, Phillies) the leaders as $26,700 over slot ($150,000 bonuses vs. $123,300 recommendations).

Rumors are rampant that several players have agreed to significantly above-slot deals, but no team wants to be the first to step forward and admit to one. It continues to look like we’ll have to wait until the last couple of days before the deadline for a slew of above-slot signings to become official.

    I’m wondering with all the hullabloo around the Rangers trading Mark Teixeira to the Braves for five young players and Eric Gagne to the Red Sox for three more, what would their Top 10 Prospects list look like right now? I would imagine Saltalamacchia would rank No. 1 now that they foolishly traded John Danks to the White Sox, but after that I can’t really determine what the list would be.

    Trace Wysaske
    Gig Harbor, Wash.

    Baseball America ranked the Rangers farm system 28th overall Premium at the beginning of this year. Since then, they’ve added nine young players in trades for Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton; had five picks in the first and supplemental first rounds of the draft; and had breakout seasons from Chris Davis, German Duran, Taylor Teagarden and Johnny Whittleman. Where would you rank Texas’ system at this point?

    Adam J. Morris

Trade acquisitions Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kason Gabbard no longer count as prospects by our definition, but the Rangers system still has seen quite an influx of talent. In the last Ask BA, I noted that the Padres system will move from near the bottom to the middle of the pack. I believe Texas will make a bigger jump, perhaps into the 11-15 range.

Saltalamacchia would have ranked No. 1 had he qualified, and with him out of the mix, righthander Eric Hurley headlines my up-to-the-minute Rangers Top 10. Actually, I’m going to go 20 deep, and make these assumptions: Texas will come to terms with unsigned first-rounder Blake Beavan and supplemental first-rounders Julio Borbon and Neil Ramirez; and Jason Botts and Edinson Volquez will lose their prospect eligibility by the end of the season. I’ve indicated the 2007 acquisitions in parentheses.

1. Eric Hurley, rhp
Never got the hype of the DVD trio but will eclipse them all.
2. Blake Beavan, rhp (2007 first-rounder)
6-foot-7 frame, mid-90s fastball, nasty slider make for intimidating combo.
3. Kasey Kiker, lhp
2006 first-rounder may not be big, but he’s a lefty with three quality pitches.
4. Johnny Whittleman, 3b
Has rebounded from disastrous 2006 to become best bat in system.
5. Taylor Teagarden, c
Hitting better than expected; needs to get healthy go he can go behind plate again.
6. Elvis Andrus, ss (Teixeira trade)
Slick fielder has much to prove with the bat, but he’s still 18.
7. Michael Main, rhp (2007 first-rounder)
Has best pure velocity in system but needs to add polish, reduce effort.
8. Julio Borbon, of (2007 supplemental first-rounder)
Easily the best college center fielder in the 2007 draft.
9. Omar Poveda, rhp
Held his own in low Class A last year at age 18; tearing it up this year at 19.
10. Joaquin Arias, ss
Shoulder surgery wiped out his season, but he still has lots of tools and is just 22.
11. German Duran, 2b
Has come out of nowhere to hit .311 with 21 homers in Double-A.
12. Chris Davis, 3b
Best power hitter in system will have to answer questions about contact, defense.
13. Fabio Castillo, rhp
Crown jewel of club’s strong international push in 2006 can touch 97 mph.
14. Neftali Feliz, rhp (Teixeira trade)
Had best fastball in Braves system, reaching mid-90s with ease.
15. Matt Harrison, lhp (Teixeira trade)
Polished lefty needs to prove his shoulder is healthy, then miss some more bats.
16. John Mayberry Jr., of
Owns legitimate power but can be exploited by more advanced pitchers.
17. Marcus Lemon, ss
$1 million fourth-rounder is showing solid tools (except for power) in first full season.
18. Max Ramirez, c (Lofton trade)
Futures Gamer would rank higher if he had the defense to be an everyday catcher.
19. Neil Ramirez, rhp (2007 supplemental first-rounder)
Stock slipped during inconsistent spring, but he’ll flash a plus fastball and curve.
20. Engel Beltre, of (Gagne trade)
Very raw but has drawn comparisons to Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Darryl Strawberry.

    There have been some eye-popping pitching performances in the Double-A Eastern League this year with Clay Buchholz, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Justin Masterson all dominating . . . and that’s only Portland and Trenton. Is the offense in the league down or are those guys that good?

    Jason Morris
    Walnut Creek, Calif.

It’s more a factor of the quality of those pitchers. Buchholz (Red Sox), Chamberlain and Hughes (both Yankees) can make a case for being the three best righthanded pitching prospects in the entire minors. The other two can’t match their stuff, but Kennedy has very good command and should be a solid No. 3 starter for New York, while Masterson likely will wind up as a quality setup man for Boston.

The pitchers are more impressive than the hitters in the Eastern League this year. The same was true in 2006, when Hughes, Matt Garza, Mike Pelfrey, Adam Miller and Adam Loewen were the league’s top five prospects.

Besides the arms that Jason mentioned, the EL also has been home to Carlos Carrasco (Phillies) and Chuck Lofgren (Indians), both of whom made our Midseason Top 25 Prospects list Premium; Michael Bowden (Red Sox) and Colin Balester (Nationals), who made our preseason Top 100; and two of the game’s top relief prospects in Jim Hoey (Orioles) and Kevin Whelan (Yankees). Kyle Kendrick has graduated to Philadelphia, where he has won five of his first 10 starts. And there’s another solid tier of pitchers such as Alan Horne (Yankees), Jair Jurrjens (Tigers), Radhames Liz (Orioles) and Matt Maloney (Reds, after the Phillies traded him for Kyle Lohse).

The EL’s only elite position prospects are outfielder Fernando Martinez (Mets) and Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), and McCutchen has had a down year. After them, there’s a dropoff to the likes of outfielder Brian Barton (Indians), shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians) and first baseman Jeff Larish (Tigers).

    What can you tell us about Angels outfielder Chris Pettit? I don’t recall reading anything about him in your preseason rankings or the Prospect Hot Sheet. His combined numbers in low and high Class A are staggering (.349/.429/.593 with 18 homers, 85 RBIs and 27 steals in 105 games). Is he a true center fielder? What is his ETA?

    Gregg Patnode
    Woodbury, Minn.

Pettit was an unheralded 19th-round senior sign a year ago out of Loyola Marymount. He went undrafted in 2005 despite a solid junior season with the Lions, and he performed well for the Cape Cod League champion Orleans Cardinals that summer. He slumped as a senior, however, and turned pro for a $1,000 bonus that looks like a bargain now.

Pettit broke into pro ball last summer with an all-star performance in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, batting .336/.445/.566 with a league-best 25 doubles. He has produced at a similar pace this year, and Ever Magallanes, his manager at low Class A Cedar Rapids, can’t say enough good things about him.

“He’s as professional a hitter as they come,” Magallanes says. “He sets up pitchers. In his first at-bat, he’ll take a pitch to set guys up for his second or third at-bat, when runners are in scoring position. He did everything for us: hitting, stealing bags, throwing guys out. He has an average arm but it’s very accurate and he gets rid of the ball quickly.”

Pettit has split time between left and center field this season, but he’s not a pure center fielder. Though he’s putting himself on the prospect map, he’s still going to have to prove himself a level at a time. If he keeps hitting like he has, he could reach Los Angeles by the end of 2009.

" July 27 Ask BA