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Eastern League Chat with Alan Matthews

Moderator: Alan Matthews will begin taking your Eastern League questions at 2 p.m. ET.

 Q:  Browning Nagle from Louisville, KY asks:
Who has the biggest upside of the the BoSox three? Papelbon, Sanchez or Lester? What is the ETA for Sanchez and Lester?

Alan Matthews: A pleasant good afternoon to all stopping by today. Ba has been chat-central today, so for our insight on the playoffs, be sure to check out John Manuel's chat held earlier today at espn.com.

Alan Matthews: Portland had the league's best combination of prospects on both sides of the game this year and the threesome of Papelbon, Sanchez and Lester could have been ranked in any order. I really like the upside of Lester so he got the knod as the highest-ranked pitcher of the group. He needs to sharpen his slider, which I was banking on, as it's an inconsistent pitch but plus at times. Health is the key to Sanchez. He tired down the stretch of the regular season, but did return to pitch in the playoffs. Papelbon is the safest bet of them all, if not for his composure and maturity, for the way he carried himself in the pressure-packed environment in the big leagues as the Sox secured the wild card. Lester could be in the big leagues by next September while Sanchez will need to show the durability it takes to pitch in the majors. If he does, he could be on Lester's heels. Papelbon should compete for a job on the staff in spring training next season.

 Q:  Aaron from Allston, ma asks:
Oh boy, so much excitement for Sox fans down in Portland. I've seen the trio of Papelbon, Lester, and Sanchez ranked every which way, although usually in that order. Why did you choose to rank them how you did? Also, I was debating with my buddies yesterday which of the trio has the highest ceiling and we all disagreed. What's your take on this?

Alan Matthews: I addressed this in the first response, but to expand, I just like mid-90s heat from the left side, and obviously Lester and Sanchez being three years younger than Papelbon makes their upside rate better than Papelbon's.

 Q:  Joe from Minnesota asks:
How does Fransisco Liriano relate to Felix Hernandez? Does he have more potential, and can you see Liriano developing into a Johan Santana?

Alan Matthews: Hernandez, the Mariners fireballer who, like Liriano was called upthe majors after ranking as the top prospect in their Triple-A leagues, is two years younger than Liriano and has three polished pitches. They both have potential to eat innings and rack up double-digit victory totals at the top of a rotation annually, but I would have to rank Hernandez just a tick ahead of Liriano. The common comp on Liriano is Santana. They're both Latin and have great command from the left side, though Santana's bread and butter is his changeup where Liriano's out-pitch in his power slider.

 Q:  William J. LaPedomaine from Rock Ridge, TX asks:
Does Hayden Penn have #1 stuff? Do you think that the Orioles hurt him by brining him up, or was it a good learning experience for him?

Alan Matthews: Scouts who saw Penn this summer felt he profiled more as a No. 3 starter, or perhaps a 4 or 5 guy, depending on command. He was definitely rushed to the big leagues and clearly flustered but he rebounded nicely. Hitters in the big leagues were keying on a habit Penn had of cocking his glove at an angle when he gripped his breaking ball, and major league hitters are good enough, but when a rookie is tipping his pitches, he's going to get hammered, and Penn had some forgettable outings while with Baltimore. He made the adjustment and finished the season well.

 Q:  Bill from Quebec asks:
Do you thin Eric Duncan will ever start hitting for average?

Alan Matthews: There's some question, especially when surveying scouts and managers. He really is having trouble with offspeed stuff and is going to have to learn to hit the breaking ball in the zone. He doesnít chase a lot of pitches out of the zone, but he just didn't make solid contact when he offered at changeups and breaking balls in the zone. He was clearly not ready for Double-A, but he seemed to keep a good attitude in a tough situation. (He was playing close to home and often distracted with friends and family often at the park.) He'll be back in Trenton next season and has great makeup, so donít give up hope based on his poor 2005 summer.

 Q:  Eric from Boston asks:
Hi Alan, thanks for taking the questions. With guys in the way, and possible needs else where, will Hanley be seeing a position change in the near future?

Alan Matthews: The Red Sox acquisition of Edgar Renteria in the offseason certainly clouded Hanley's future. I believe Ramirez needs another 500-1,000 minor league at-bats before he's ready to play in the big leagues every day, so there's no reason to think he's stuck behind Renteria. With another lackluster season from Renteria, perhaps the Red Sox will try and move him in a trade, making room for Ramirez if he's ready in 2007.

 Q:  steve from new york asks:
how high of a ceiling does lastings milledge have and do you think petit can be a #2 starter in the bigs

Alan Matthews: Milledge could be an occasional all-star as a solid everyday major league center fielder. Petit was the source of much deliberation during calls to scouts and managers who worked in the Eastern League this year. His stuff is all average, but it all plays up because of his remarkable control and pitchability. This kid really has an idea of how to pitch, adding and subtracting off all of his pitches, and his fastball has a rising action that gave hitters fits. History indicates major league hitters punish fringy stuff, regardless of feel for that stuff, but I bet Petit develops into at least a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter, though his ceiling might be what you suggested, Steve.

 Q:  Aaron from Allston, ma asks:
One other question every sox fan has. I want so badly to believe you but I haven't seen anything from Hanley Ramirez in the limited times I've had to watch him that helps me understand why he's ranked higher than some of the prospects on this list who've already accomplished more at the same and higher levels (papelbon and zimmerman two name a few). Please help me understand why scouts and BA are still so high on this guy.

Alan Matthews: Tools! He's got plus tools across the board and it's a matter of developing those tools into a foundation of workable baseball skills that remains Ramirez' task. He played the entire season as a 21-year-old, so he's got time on his side and it's understandable that he didn't tear up the EL, which was heavy in pitching prospects at almost every stop. He was a career .313 hitter entering the season, so he has performed just fine, to go along with that projection and his tools, by the way.

 Q:  J.P. from Springfield, IL asks:
How close was Mike Jacobs?

Alan Matthews: Very. He was knocking on the door at the 21-25 range. Jacobs ' lack of ability as a catcher is what might have made the difference. If he's relegated to first base, he's going to have to hit a ton to play every day, and there are doubts he can keep up the clip he was on late in the year in New York. He has a 40 arm, can receive but is stiff behind the plate. He has mostly a pull approach but can drive balls to the opposite field, as well. He has abv avg raw power and could possibly hit 30 home runs each season at the very best scenario.

 Q:  Nancy from Rochester asks:
Will Francisco Liriano start next year at Rochester or will he get an opportunity to make the major league club?

Alan Matthews: He was not great after being called up to the Twins in September, but the Twins are comfortable allowing young pitchers to settle in even if there are some growing pains in the big leagues. Liriano will dictate where he opens the season next spring, and there's good money in Vegas that says he finds his way onto the Twins Opening Day pitching staff.

 Q:  Joe from Grand Rapids, MI asks:
Who, besides Zumaya, was seriously considered for the top twenty from Erie?

Alan Matthews: Humberto Sanchez, Tony Girratano, Donald Kelly and Juan Francia all came up during conversations with scouts. Sanchez was probably the prospect who received the most support out of that group. His breaking ball has sharp, late break. When he stayed down in the zone, he had success. He pitched near 93 mph and looked like he could reach back for more if he needed to. He has some command issues and needs to watch his weight.

 Q:  tiffythetitan from Oakland, CA asks:
No love for any other Giants prospects? Anyone else close to making the Top 20?

Alan Matthews: Dan Ortmeier was close to making the cut. He can run, hit, hit for power, fields well, and has an average, accurate arm. He was 24 and repeating the league, so you had to put things into context with Ortmeier, but he has a higher ceiling than a lot of the players who missed out on making the list but otherwise had productive seasons in the EL. He's got great makeup and works his tail off day-in and day-out, which bodes well for his future. Most scouts felt he profiled best as a fourth outfielder on a contending team.

 Q:  Alex 'RedHawk' Marist from Chicago, IL asks:
Alan, did Tom Gorzelanny qualify for this list?? I thought he would for sure be in the Top 20. If he did, did he warrant much discussion for the Top 20? If he didn't warrant discussion, what do you view as his future?

Alan Matthews: Gorzellany had a solid season in Double-A before being roughed up in two of his three outings in the big leagues alongside fellow lefthanders Zach Duke and Paul Maholm. Gorzelanny has a good fastball, attacks the strike zone. He needs to better understand how to set up hitters and execute and command his pitches better. He has an 88-91 mph fastball, a decent slider and a real good changeup with good fade. He was in the 26-30 range on this list, and I believe he will wind up in the bullpen as a long reliever unless he can clean up his mechanics and better repeat his delivery.

 Q:  Eric from Ricksville ma asks:
One stat that seems to be pretty projectable for minor league pitchers is Kinn. Zumaya was way up there (1st or 2nd right?) yet he's no where near his K-ounterpart Liriano. Maybe i'm nitpicking but why the reluctance to put him up at the top. I was expecting him to be about the 6th best SP prospect in all of the minor leagues for your top 100 next year.

Alan Matthews: Here was the season's top five pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings pitched: * Hill, Rich IOW PCL 13.36 * Sanchez, J SJO CAL 11.89 Zumaya, Joel TOL INT 11.83 * Gonzalez, Gio WSW CAR 11.20 * Tiffany, Ch VER FSL 10.96 Zumaya's season was awe-inspiring. He racked up most of his strikeouts based on his velocity and his secondary stuff and command is not as good as that of Liriano and Lester and the other pitchers who ranked ahead of him. The Tigers are not in a hurry to move him to the bullpen, although most scouts believe he profiles best as a closer. He has to avoid over throwing and learn to stay within himself. He has some room for improvement, for sure, as well as one of the best arms in the minors. His total package is just not as polished as the guys we ranked higher in the EL.

 Q:  Fisher Fan from Merrimack asks:
Which Fisher cats were closest to cracking the list?

Alan Matthews: Always nice to get questions from large, dark brown North American arboreal carnivorous mammals. Three pitchers--David Purcey, Zach Jackson and Josh Banks--were all close to making the cut. Purcey has the best upside of the trio and was right there with Mike Jacobs of the Mets and O's reliever Chris Ray in the hunt for No. 20. We left Gustavo Chacin off this list a year ago because we felt his ceiling was not as high as some of the other pitching prospects, and Chacin went on to log more than 200 innings and did a nice job for the Jays this year. Similarly, Purcey profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter who has a plus fastball, a solid-average changeup and a fringy breaking ball. Banks has otherworldly control, but at times seemed like he'd prefer to give up a double than a walk, as he caught too much of the strike zone with his average stuff. Jackson is a bullpen guy for me. His secondary stuff was not consistent. But I'll take a big-bodied guy with a funky delivery from a low arm slot to get me some outs late in games out of the pen any day. Jackson falls in love with his cutter and needs to work on his other pitches.

 Q:  Brandon from Camden, TN asks:
Everyone has heard about Zimmerman's glove, but what about his bat? His 58 AB audition was great, but who is he comparable long term to? Should we be more concerned over only 2 walks or 0 HR in 60 PAs.

Alan Matthews: Zimmerman stepped up to Harrisburg after less than a week in low Class A, right out of college, and more than held his own. His best tool is his glove but he figures to post at least average numbers in batting average and home runs as he matures and learns the nuances of hitting. He could improve his plate discipline a touch, as he's very aggressive early in counts, especially with the fastball. He compares favorably to a Scott Brosius type of player, who might hit anywhere from No. 2 to No. 7 in a lineup.

 Q:  Blair from Anaheim, CA asks:
Hi Alan, thanks for the chat! Two guys who were left off the list who didn't really stand out, but I thought would be at the bottom: Alex Romero and Melky Cabrera. Are they both tweenersfourth outfielders or do they have a chance to start someday? Romero showed some more pop this year and was in the top 10 in total bases. Is he a CF or corner guy?

Alan Matthews: Nice question. I like Romero's toolset. He runs well and hits to all fields with juice. Depending on which scout you spoke with, some believed he was a tweener who would wind up as a n extra outfielder while others thought he could play center field, though he played mostly in left when Denard Span was called up to the EL.

Alan Matthews: Cabrera really took a step back after he was rushed to the big leagues, although he had a big postseason, as he homered twice. He's a fourth outfielder for me. Defensively he has to improve on his jumps, he's a tick slow getting off the ball when it's hit. His speed is avg, arm is a touch above, he just doesnít make good reads off the bat. His swing is simple and compact, which is good, but he's going to gave to learn how to handle the fastball in. He dives out a little bit and while his bat's not slow, he just does not have a lot of movement in that swing. He can't seem to grasp having a more active bat, even though he does it in BP. He hasnít been able to get any movement going. When you're that still, you're going to get pounded in. Most successful hitter have some type of movement in their hands and wrists as the pitch is arriving and he likes to hit from a dead set.

 Q:  Mike from Londonderry asks:
Where's Brad Snyder? I assume he qualified, but if he didn't where would he have landed?

Alan Matthews: He's a good looking player, he has some power, will use the opposite field and has a good idea of strike zone. Snyder is athletic, big and strong and his body reminded some scouts of Paul O'Neill. Those same scouts felt he lost some bat speed as the year grew older though.

 Q:  Blair from Anaheim, CA asks:
Did Casey Janssen have enough innings to qualify? He gave up more hits than IP in the EL, but he has good command, high K rate and groundball tendencies. That usually equates success at the big league level. Was his stuff that mediocre? Can he contribute at the big league level at the back of the rotation or will he end up as a long guy?

Alan Matthews: Though he was not noted often in surveys of scouts and managers, what we heard on Janssen was positive and I believe he will be able to contribute in the big leagues with the Jays.

 Q:  Troy from Detroit, MI asks:
I don't understand how Zumaya can only be ranked 10th in the Eastern League after the season he had? He's only 20 years old and he absolutely dominated the Eastern League. At the very least he should be ranked higher than Papelbon who is also a RHP. Zumaya's numbers are better than Papelbon's across the board and he's also 4 years younger. What am I missing?

Alan Matthews: Some here in the office really shared your sentiment, I just am not sold on Zumaya's secondary stuff and he has some violence to his delivery. Time, obviously will tell, and he could become the best guy out of the league's crop this season.

 Q:  Dennis from St. Louis asks:
Thanks for doing this chat. Why didnít the following Akron Aeros make the list and where would you have ranked them if your list had been expanded to, say, 40 guys: Ryan Mulhern, Brad Snyder, Fausto Carmona, Rafael Perez, Eider Torres, Ivan Ochoa and Jon Van Every? Thanks

Alan Matthews: We touched on Snyder a moment ago . . . out of this group you mentioned I believe Rafeal Perez has the best chance to make an impact in the majors. He has electric stuff from the left side, a two-seamer at 90, 91 that he spots to both corners of the plate and has some arm side run. His slider is short and hard. He needs to better develop a softer offering if he is going to remain a starter. Mullhern improved his approach this season and has plus raw power. Carmona just doesn't miss enough bats for me. Brian Slocum and Edward Mujica could be a couple of sleeper candidates off an Akron club that won the title.

 Q:  Deke from Salinger, NH asks:
Matt Moses' numbers don't seem too impressive - what are folks saying that put him on the list?

Alan Matthews: A lefthanded bat with thunder. Moses has plus raw power which might not have been apparent in the EL this summer, but as a 20-year-old in Double-A, I believed his upside warranted a spot on the top 20 in a league that was very top heavy and littered with fringe position player prospects.

 Q:  JP from Dallas asks:
Alan, thanks for the chat. As a fanatic Red Sox fan (sorry, I know that's redundant), I am excited that 5 Sox prospects made the top 20 and, of course, am wondering whether any others came close. In particular, did Delcarmen or any of the outfielders - Murphy, Moss, Durbin - receive any support? Durbin, in particular, is interesting as I seem to remember him having a very strong defensive reputation but he was hitting very well this year before he got injured. Any thoughts on him?

Alan Matthews: Because of the lefthanded bat, I would have to give Moss the edge as the player with the most upside out of Portland's outfield, although both he and Durbin received some support for this list. Moss has a ways to go, however, as he bails at times, cheating for the fastball in. He didn't make good adjustments and I'm not sold he profiles as an everyday corner outfielder. Similarly, I'm not sure Murphy can play center field and you wonder if the power will be there to play a corner. Durbin has power but needs to improve defensively and is a free swinger. Delcarmen profiles as a reliever.

 Q:  J.P. from Springfield, IL asks:
Estimated ETA callup for Markakis?

Alan Matthews: September 2006.

 Q:  Adam from motownsports.com asks:
Tony Giarratano is one of the more intriguing position prospects in the Tigers system, but struggled more than expected. What are your thoughts on him?

Alan Matthews: Girratano has struggled to stay healthy but is an above-average defensive shortstop when he was in the lineup. The bat has a ways to go.

 Q:  Jose from Puerto Rico asks:
Was this a breakout year for Rob Cosby? Will the Blue Jays place him on the 40-man roster?

Alan Matthews: Cosby reminds some of an Olmedo Saenz type of player, as an extra bat that can play both corner infield spots. He needs to watch after his body and he is a below average defensive infielder although he is a good hitter with power. The Jays system produced Aaron Hill, Alex Rios and Russ Adams recently but is not heavy with position player prospects at the upper levels, making Cosby a guy that might be a candidate to be protected.

 Q:  Joel from Washington, DC asks:
I was kind of surprised that AltoonaPirate third baseman Jose Bautista didn't make the top 20. I admit that he's 24, but basically between injuries and the Rule V fiasco this was his first normal season since 2002, and he showed solid power in a pitcher's park. What's the explanation, and how do you see Bautista going forward?

Alan Matthews: He did not qualify because of the time he spent in the majors last season. He would have been in the 21-30 mix, however, as he has some playable tools but likely profiles as a bat off the bench. Altoona's Rajai Davis was also close to making the list, as he has plus speed and made strides this season at the plate.

 Q:  Ravecc from New Jersey asks:
Why no love for Brian Bannister? I know heís 24, but a 2.56 era and a 9427 KBB ratio shouldnít be ignored.

Alan Matthews: Bannister put up nice numbers and was considered for the list, though ultimately his stuff profiles at the back end of a rotation.

 Q:  Henry from Tiburon,CA asks:
Who is the sleeper on this list is there someone with tons of potential but is raw and can breakout next year?

Alan Matthews: We spoke about David Purcey from New Hampshire and Mike Jacobs of the Mets and another player that might emerge is Chris Roberson from Reading. Roberson is a very good defensive outfielder. He gets off the ball well and is a really good athlete with a plus arm. I didn't think early on he was a good hitter because he chased a lot of balls out of the zone but he was more patient as the season went on. He improved his balance and used the whole field.

 Q:  TempleUSox from Philadelphia, PA asks:
If Craig Hansen qualified, where would he rank?

Alan Matthews: In the 10-15 range. He has a great arm and needs to improve his command.

 Q:  james from Atlanta asks:
Would you rather have Zimmerman or Marte?

Alan Matthews: I have some concerns on Marte's bat. He really seems to struggle with pitch recognition and at this stage of his career, you would like to see a hitter have a better command of the zone than we saw from him. He still has a higher upside as a hitter than Zimmerman, but Zimmerman is closer to being able to contribute in the big leagues.

Alan Matthews: There were some great questions that did not get answered but I've reached my pitch count. Thanks and be sure to tune in for this week's Texas and Southern League chats.

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