Ask BA

Even more stunning than Arizona State coach Pat Murphy’s sudden resignation on Friday is that three days later, nobody knows why it happened. Our Aaron Fitt is on the case, and we’ll bring you that news as soon as it becomes available.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

    Given Buster Posey's rapid rise through the minor leagues, will the Rays drafting Tim Beckham No. 1 overall instead of Posey look like a big mistake in years to come? After all, Dioner Navarro struggled behind the plate this year, and Michel Hernandez and John Jaso don't look like long-term solutions either. 

    Ryan Pearson


I doubt the Rays would admit this publicly, but if they knew then what they know now, they’d have to take Posey with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Jason Bartlett just had a monster season and Reid Brignac is still one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball, so Tampa Bay is stocked at that position. Beckham put together a solid if not terribly inspiring .275/.327/.389 year as a 19-year-old teenager in low Class A. While most South Atlantic League observers still believe he has a world of offensive potential, the consensus is that he’s not going to stick at shortstop in the long term. His next-best option would be third base, and the Rays are set at the hot corner, too.

Teams should draft purely for talent and not for need when they have the first choice in the draft. Posey not only offers more positional value as a catcher, but he’s a better player period. In Tampa Bay’s defense, Beckham was considered a worthy choice and was by no means a reach. By spreading his bonus over five years under MLB provisions for two-sport athletes, the Rays reduced the present value of his $6.15 million bonus to $4,727,016, considerably lower than Posey’s then-record $6.2 million bonus.

While Beckham still has a bright future, Posey would have been worth the extra $1.5 million. He’s going to be a better player and he would have filled the biggest hole in Tampa Bay’s big league lineup and farm system.

The important thing to remember about those lists is the context. In the Florida State League, Nieuwenhuis hit .274/.357/.467 while Vitters batted just .238/.260/.344 with just five walks in 196 plate appearances. Nieuwenhuis is two years older and doesn’t have Vitters’ draft pedigree, but quite frankly, FSL observers didn’t know what to make of Vitters. “Wherever you rank him will be too high and too low,” one scout told J.J. Cooper, who put together the FSL Top 20, explaining that he’s a high-risk, high-reward prospect.

Nieuwenhuis greatly outperformed Vitters in the FSL, which was enough to just edge him on that list. But looking at their entire résumés, Vitters is clearly the better prospect, hence his higher ranking in a deeper farm system. He still has plate-discipline issues to address, but he’s a potential .300 hitter with 25 or more homers per year. Niewuenhuis, who doesn’t have the tightest strike zone either, has a ceiling as a .275 hitter with 20 homers annually. He also figures to move from center to right field as he advances, just as there are questions as to whether Vitters can stay at third base.

Vitters was an extreme example of a very good prospect performing poorly in a league. Of the players who saw a good deal of action in the FSL this year, Vitters probably will rank seventh when we release an updated Top 100 Prospects list next spring. Factoring in league performance, he came out as the 14th-best prospect on our FSL list. That may seem odd, but we believe that’s preferable to just ranking the league lists with little or no regard to how the players fared while there.

    Neither Garrett Jones nor Casey McGehee made the 2009 Prospect Handbook, yet they had impressive rookie campaigns in the majors. What were the main reasons they weren't highly regarded? What's your take on their outlook now after their impressive rookie seasons?

    Dan Williams

    Sutton, Mass.

Not only were Jones and McGehee left out of last year’s Handbook, they’ve never made a team Top 30 Prospects list in any of our Handbooks.

After the 2006 season, we did rate Jones as the best power hitter in the Twins system, but he also was 25 and had hit just .238/.302/.430 while repeating Triple-A. Coming into 2009, he was a career .255/.310/.445 hitter and was viewed as a one-tool guy. The Braves released him three years after taking him in the 14th round of the 1999 draft, and Minnesota let him become a six-year minor league free agent after the 2008 season.

McGehee became a Cubs organization favorite after they made him a 10th round pick in 2003, but his best pure tool was his arm strength. When he struggled in his second stint in Triple-A in 2007, Chicago sent him down to Double-A and tried to turn him into a catcher. He had the best year of his minor league career in 2008, earning a September callup, but the Cubs removed him from the 40-man roster in October and lost him on waivers. His career numbers in the minors were .279/.332/.409 at that point.

Jones got his chance with the Pirates after they traded Eric Hinske and Nyjer Morgan at midseason, and he made the most of it by batting .293/.372/.567 with 21 homers in 82 games. He also showed more athleticism than he had been given credit for and saw more time in the outfield than at first base. McGehee made the Brewers after performing well in spring training and kept carving out a bigger role for himself, eventually grabbing the third-base job and hitting .301/.360/.499 in 116 games.

Despite their surprise rookie seasons, color me skeptical. They both hit better in the majors than they ever had in the minors, and Jones was 28 and McGehee was 26. I suspect they both enjoyed career years rather than truly turned a corner and established a new level of production. Because they played so well, they’ll get every chance to prove me wrong.

" Nov. 9 Ask BA