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By Jim Callis

July 31, 2001

Welcome to the very early Tuesday edition of Ask BA. We posted it at about 5 a.m. Eastern this morning, for three reasons. One, it eased my guilt over being tardy with the last installment. Two, I was up much too late after working on some home renovations. And three, it will free me up to write about all the deadline-day deals as they happen. Be sure to visit Trade Central repeatedly today.

Nobody asked me what I thought about Brewers manager Davey Lopes' tirade against Rickey Henderson, but I'll tell you anyway. Yes, as Henderson would put it, Rickey is all about Rickey. But Lopes was out of line, regardless of what baseball's unwritten rules might be. As someone once said in a Strat-O-Matic league I was in, "I'll stop trying to score runs when you stop." In today's offense-crazed era, no lead is safe. If the Brewers aren't going to pay attention to a runner when they trail by seven runs, they shouldn't cry if he advances. The day before, the Astros blew a six-run lead in the ninth inning against the woeful Pirates. Lopes would have been better off just fuming quietly rather than throwing a fit. If a Brewers pitcher throws at Henderson the next time they play the Padres, Lopes should be suspended.

    I know you folks at Baseball America have been extremely high on Josh Beckett, now pitching at Double-A Portland. You have raved about his mid-90s, two-seam fastball that reminds scouts a lot of Dwight Gooden, and the fact that he's not afraid to come inside. A week ago, however, scouts saw him and were underwhelmed by his fastball, clocking it more at 91 mph.

    What do think about that development? Could he be hitting a physical wall? And do you think the Marlins will trade some starting pitching depth late this season or in the offseason so he can start in the major leagues?

    Terry Prince

Yes, Beckett hasn't been as dominant in Double-A (3-1, 2.54, 45-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 39 innings) as he was in high Class A (6-0, 1.23, 101-15 K-BB ratio in 66 innings). But that's still plenty dominant for a 21-year-old in his second year of pro ball. I don't think there's much doubt that he's the best pitching prospect in baseball. You mentioned his heat, but you neglected his Bert Blylevenesque curve. Beckett has thrown nearly twice as many innings as he did in his pro debut last year, so it wouldn't be shocking if his velocity fluctuates in the second half of the season.

Because of his age and his problems with shoulder tendinitis in 2001, I don't think the Marlins are going to force an opening for Beckett to pitch in the majors next season. He'll probably begin 2002 in Triple-A with a chance to make it to Florida at the all-star break. Just to be safe, if I were the Marlins I'd probably shut him down after the season rather than have him pitch in the Arizona Fall League. The most important thing when handling an arm like Beckett's is to keep it healthy.

    What's the latest on the Indians' negotiations with Alan Horne? How do you rate their chances of getting him signed?

    Also, Dan Denham, J.D. Martin and Travis Foley have been pretty impressive so far, particularly Martin. Is Jake Dittler a comparable talent to those three?

    Mike McClaskey

It looks like the Indians won't be able to sign Horne. The Florida high school righthander was one of the best pitchers available in the draft, but he slid until the 27th pick because teams apparently figured out that he really wanted to attend the University of Mississippi, where he'll study engineering. The gamble was worth taking for Cleveland, because Horne was just the third of its four first-round picks.

Of the others, high school righthanders Denham (0-0, 1.08 in three starts) and Martin (3-0, 0.31 in six starts, with seven hits, three walks and 46 strikeouts in 29 innings) have been strong, while high school outfielder Michael Conroy (.275-0-10 in 19 games) has been OK. All three are at Rookie-level Burlington, as is Foley (0-2, 2.33 in five starts, 26 whiffs in 19 innings), a high school righty taken in the fourth round.

Dittler, another high school righty, went in the second round and signed later than his counterparts, so he hasn't pitched yet. His talent compares favorably to that of the other three pitchers, though they all have their subtle differences. Dittler is very projectable at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, and he already touches 93 mph and shows flashes of a plus curveball and changeup. Denham is a power pitcher in the making, with a 94-96 mph and a hard, nasty curveball. Martin is more of a Greg Maddux, relying on command and movement more than velocity. Foley can hit 93 mph, but he's pretty raw.

Draft Report Cards are a few months away. When they come out, the Indians should receive high marks. They restocked the organization with a ton of pitching.

    My question is regarding catcher Mike Rivera of the Erie Seawolves. There seemed to be a lot of reservations about his upside early this season. Now that he has 30 home runs and has made an appearance in the Futures Game, are questions regarding Mike's upside being answered? How high does he rate against other catchers in the minor leagues, and, more specifically, how does he rate in the Tigers system now?

    Joe Berish
    Ann Arbor, Mich.

    I'm curious as to why I haven't seen more written about Mike Rivera, the Tigers' catching prospect at Double-A Erie. He's putting up some huge numbers, and I would like your take on his potential to be an impact player for Detroit.

    Howard Perlman
    Franklin, Mich.

    Ever since the Tigers chose Brandon Inge in the 1998 draft, they have been ranting and raving about his defensive skills, but he doesn't seem to provide much offense. The Tigers also have a young catcher down in Double-A Erie, Mike Rivera, who's hitting the cover off the ball.

    Since today's game is centered more around offense, and the art of the stolen base seems to be disappearing, Rivera would seem to be the obvious choice as being deemed the Tigers' future catcher. My question is, which one do you see the Tigers keeping and which one will be used as possible trade bait for more frontline pitching? Or will they keep both?

    Steve Vargo
    Fountain Hills, Ariz.

Rivera is this column's winner of the most popular question subject. He wasn't drafted out of Puerto Rico, instead signing with Detroit as a free agent in 1997. Before this year, he was a career .269 hitter with 48 homers in four seasons, and he was more famous for appearing in the Kevin Costner film, "For The Love Of The Game" (which I can't bring myself to watch, by the way). Then he had eight homers and 27 RBIs in April and never stopped hitting. Through 87 games, he's hitting .299-30-87 and leading the Eastern League in the latter two categories. He still needs to improve his receiving skills, though he has a strong arm. I haven't broken down every system, but Rivera has to be one of the top 10 or so catching prospects in the minors.

Both Rivera and Inge are 24, but otherwise they have little in common. Inge excels defensively but never has hit much, except in the now-defunct California Fall League in 1999. He has batted .239-29-150 in 289 minor league games and .211-0-13 in 58 big league contests. Because Inge was a second-round pick in 1998, he'll get several chances to prove himself. Rivera has played his way into prospect status but he won't get as much slack. Inge may have to fail before Rivera gets a shot, though if he keeps hitting like this either first base or DH could become an option.

    What kind of success do you see Chris George having at the major league level the rest of the year? Is he as good a prospect as Bud Smith?

    Matt Walters
    Bayshore, N.Y.

The Royals' best prospect, George is a 21-year-old lefthander who draws a lot of Tom Glavine comparisons. He was a supplemental first-round pick in 1998 and a member of the U.S. Olympic team two years later. A lot of young pitchers try to overthrow when they first reach the majors, and that's when George gets into trouble. He's at his best when he works in the low 90s, mixes his pitches and changes speeds. He had a passable big league debut, taking a loss against the Mariners after allowing three runs in five innings. I think he'll have an up-and-down rookie season in 2001. I'll go out on a limb and say he'll go 3-6, 4.89 with 47 strikeouts in 70 innings.

Smith, who's the Cardinals' top prospect, is also a 21-year-old southpaw. He's more polished than George at this point, though his stuff isn't as good. I do like Smith and think he'll outperform George in 2001, but I'd take George over the long haul.

July 27, 2001

The last installment of Ask BA led off with a question about whether Red Sox GM Dan Duquette was mortgaging his club's future. I responded that I thought his track record in Boston was impressive. The exchange prompted the following email. It didn't come in the form of a question, but this isn't "Jeopardy" and it made me chuckle, so here it is:

    Jim, I wish you would respond in your column by telling those crybaby Red Sox fans that they should be DAMN happy they have Duquette and not the "Boy Wonder" Allard Baird, whom Boston's own Peter Gammons never has stopped fawning about, running their club. Next year, Baird will try for the trifecta: completely trading away our once-great outfield for BS talent, by sending Beltran to (who else) the A's in a three-way deal involving St. Louis for Placido Polanco (for his "great" third-base defense, lack of power and inability to take a walk.

    Chuck Pattison
    Kansas City, Mo.

As I wrote in Trade Central, I wasn't impressed with the Royals' outcome in the Jermaine Dye trade. I would rather have the three minor leaguers the Rockies got out of it, led by second baseman Jose Ortiz, than Neifi Perez, who would join Garret Anderson on my personal All-Overrated team. Likewise, when Kansas City dealt Johnny Damon in January, the club would have been better off with the Devil Rays' take (Ben Grieve, despite his awful 2001) than what it actually received (Roberto Hernandez, A.J. Hinch and minor league shortstop Angel Berroa).

The Royals seemingly were building their offense around Damon, Dye and Sweeney a year ago at this time, and now they've traded two-thirds of that foundation for nothing of long-term value, with the possible exception of Berroa. If I'm Sweeney, I don't think I'd want to stick around after my contract expired following 2002. He's from southern California, and I'd bet the Dodgers would love to have him if they haven't allocated their total payroll to pitchers by then.

    Whatever happened to Eric Munson? I remember him as being a highly touted college player, then a top-five draft pick, but he hasn't done much of anything in professional ball. Was he an aluminum-bat hitter or was he just overrated offensively because he was a catcher? Does he have a future?

    Steve Guest

Munson's career is far from over, but he has to be considered a disappointment thus far. After a stellar career at Southern California that included a College World Series championship in 1998, he went third overall in the 1999 draft and signed a major league contract worth $6.75 million. He wasn't just an aluminum-bat hitter or overrated because he was a catcher. Scouts considered him both the best pure hitter and the best power hitter available among college prospects, and the Tigers were mainly interested in his lefthanded bat. They moved him to first base so he could get to the majors as quickly as possible.

His pro debut went well, as he hit 14 homers in 67 games at low Class A West Michigan, a tough home run park. But Munson hasn't done much since. He hit .252-15-68 with a disappointing 96-39 strikeout-walk ratio in 98 Double-A games last year. Returning to that level in 2000, he's having a very similar year: .271-14-79, 97 strikeouts, 53 walks in 107 games. He needs to be more patient and less pull-conscious, but I wonder if the reason he hasn't crushed minor league pitching could be the stress fracture in his back that cropped up last year. It began to bother Munson in July, and he hit just .228-3-15 in 32 games over the final two months. Trot Nixon had back problems early in his pro career, and it took him about four years to hit as expected.

Munson definitely has a future in the majors. It just may not be as bright as the Tigers originally anticipated, and he probably won't be a regular as quickly as hoped.

    With Texas having both Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock, do you see them moving Blalock to second base? I think this will happen because I can't see them moving Teixeira to the outfield (a la Pat Burrell). Blalock has better range and he has better around-the-bag skills, so I could see him moving into the middle. What do you think about this, and if so when do you see it happening?

    Rory Seida
    Regina, Saskatchewan

I wrote a column on Blalock a few weeks ago—subscribers can access it by clicking here—and he hasn't stopped hitting. He destroyed high Class A Florida State League pitchers with a .380 batting average and he has been just as impressive in Double-A, hitting .345-8-31 in 34 games with more walks than strikeouts (19-16) and sterling on-base (.429) and slugging (.634) percentages. It's not hard to make an argument that Blalock is the best pure hitter in the minors.

The Rangers love Blalock, and they also love fellow third baseman Teixeira, whom they took fifth overall in the 2001 draft and have yet to sign. I don't expect Teixeira to sign early enough to play this summer, so Texas may buy some time before figuring out who stays on the hot corner. Blalock will open 2002 in Triple-A, and Teixeira won't begin his pro career at that high a level.

Blalock isn't a Gold Glover, but he's a better defender than Teixeira. Teixeira isn't a slug, though, and he's a better athlete than Burrell. If the Rangers didn't have Carlos Pena, one of the game's top first-base prospects, Teixeira theoretically could move there. But they do, so I think Texas will keep Pena at first, Teixeira at third and move Blalock to an outfield corner. The Rangers have some upper-level second base prospects in Mike Young and Jason Romano, so there's no need to ask Blalock to move to a more challenging defensive position as he approaches the majors.

    Marcus Thames is having a tremendous year at Double-A Norwich in the Yankees farm system. I realize that his age (24) is slightly older than one would like to see at this level, but it seems to me that he's still young enough to have some potential. He's currently hitting .305/.393/.579 with 22 homers and 33 doubles. His 79-54 strikeout-walk ratio also seems to indicate some rather decent plate discipline.

    These numbers, especially coming in the Eastern League, which isn't light competition, seem to indicate that Marcus has the potential to be playing in Yankee Stadium in the coming years. Especially considering the Yankees' long-term outfield question marks. What do you think?

    Brian Frasure

I think I feel pretty good that I got Thames into Baseball America's Prospect Handbook by giving him the last spot on the Yankees Top 30 Prospects list. A 30th-round pick out of East Central (Miss.) CC in 1996, he signed as a draft-and-follow a year later. He had a reputation as one of the system's best all-around athletes but struggled mightily after being promoted to Double-A in 1999.

This is his third shot at Double-A, which combined with his age is a reason to discount his performance somewhat. However, he has plus power, speed and arm strength, and his willingness to take a walk is increasing. All of that bodes well for him. The Yankees are going to need some new corner outfielders in the near future, and Thames will factor into that mix.

    Have you any insight on the status of Scott Chiasson? He's doing well at Double-A West Tenn (21 saves, 1.77 ERA). Does he have a shot at making the majors? He's a local kid and I happened to see him play during the Futures Game. I know the Cubs are loaded with relievers. Have you heard anything?

    Phil Orbe
    Uncasville, Conn.
    What's the deal with Scott Chiasson? He gets no press despite the numbers he's putting up. He's dominating Double-A. Tell me more about him, please.

    Carlos Portocarrero

Believe it or not, Ask BA got two questions concerning Chiasson on the same day. If that isn't a mandate, I don't know what is, and I won't let the people down.

The Royals drafted Chiasson out of Eastern Connecticut State in 1998's fifth round, then traded him to the Athletics in June 1999 to complete a deal for Jay Witasick. In 2000, his first full season, he went 11-4, 3.06 at high Class A Visalia. After slowing down what had been a maximum-effort delivery, he went 9-2, 2.16 in the last three months and was part of a combined no-hitter in the California League playoffs.

The Cubs had the top pick in the major league Rule 5 draft at the 2000 Winter Meetings, and used it to select Chiasson. They would have had to keep him in the majors all year or offer him back to Oakland for half of the $50,000 purchase price. In lieu of those options, Chicago traded third baseman Eric Hinske to the A's in March for Miguel Cairo and the full rights to Chiasson. At the time, I thought the Cubs should have held onto Hinske, a gifted hitter who's batting .271-16-44 in 85 games at Triple-A Sacramento this year.

I still like Hinske and still believe Cairo is nothing special, but Chiasson might salvage the trade for the Cubs. Besides the numbers Phil mentioned, Chiasson also has limited opponents to a .201 batting average, one homer and 19 walks while fanning 54 in 56 innings. He was predominantly a starter in the Oakland system, but Chicago decided Chiasson's low-90s fastball and hard slider would suit him well in the bullpen. Unless he goes in the tank in August, I'd bet the Cubs call him up when rosters expand in September and give him a long look in spring training next year.

July 24, 2001

The Twins no longer own first place in the American League Central, having fallen .002 behind the Indians. Minnesota still owns a 1½-game lead over the Red Sox and a five-game edge over the fast-charging Athletics. I've been asked a lot whether the Twins, who have gone 3-9 since the all-star break, can make the playoffs. I even argued with John Manuel about this during BA's segment on MLB Radio last week. (If you haven't been listening, tune in at 6 p.m. Eastern on Thursdays to listen to John and managing editor Will Lingo.)

I think the answer is no, Minnesota won't be able to pull it off. I have a lot of respect for the people who run the organization (though not for owner Carl Pohlad, a.k.a. Scrooge) and can't help but be impressed by the Twins' 58-41 start. Most of us probably expected that record would be reversed at this point. They're going to struggle to score runs the rest of the way. I just don't know if it's possible to make the playoffs in today's offensive climate without a 30-homer guy and just three players on pace to top 20. I do know that since his torrid April, Doug Mientkiewicz has offered below-average production for a first baseman. Minnesota also needs to come up with answers for the back end of its rotation, especially if Joe Mays reverts to previous form. And while LaTroy Hawkins has 25 saves, his 28-24 strikeout-walk ratio shows he hasn't been dominating.

The Twins have been a nice story, but I don't see them providing a completely happy ending.

    Am I the only one that doesn't understand how the Red Sox can continue to trade top-flight prospects for used-up veterans? Letting Dennis Tankersley, John Barnes, Matt Kinney, Chris Reitsma, Lew Ford and, most recently, Justin Duchscherer go makes no sense, costs far too much in payroll and jeopardizes the future. So why doesn't anyone blow the whistle on this guy?

    Rangers GM Doug Melvin must have done a double take when all Boston GM Dan Duquette wanted for Duchscherer was Doug Mirabelli! Is there any way for fans to get through to GMs like Duquette to let them know we are paying attention? I feel a trading-deadline swap coming on, and am afraid it will be another top prospect like Casey Fossum or Greg Montalbano or even Tonayne Brown. What can we do?

    Joe Stevens
    Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Joe, would it surprise you that I got an email just last week accusing Baseball America of being way too harsh on the Red Sox? Someone thought BA had a consistent bias against Boston and that we hammered the club too much for these sorts of trades.

Yes, some of these deals were extremely shortsighted. I didn't understand the logic behind Reitsma (and failed first-round pick John Curtice) for Dante Bichette late last summer. Tankersley has blown up in their face, too, thus far, as he has been nothing less than outstanding since joining the Padres along with shortstop Cesar Saba last June for Ed Sprague. At the time, Saba was the higher-rated prospect (I always thought he was overrated because there was no evidence he could hit) and Tankersley was an unknown. Tankersley would be the Red Sox' top prospect now if he were still in the system, though I think San Diego's scouts deserve a lot of credit for spotting a diamond in the rough. At the time he was traded, Tankersley was 5-3, 4.06 with 74 strikeouts (but also 73 hits) in 75 innings at low Class A Augusta.

As for the other guys you mentioned, they're not worth getting upset about. Barnes and Kinney were plodding through the minors in July 1998 when they were sent with lefthander Joe Thomas to the Twins for Orlando Merced and Greg Swindell, and while they've blossomed somewhat neither has established himself as a big leaguer three years later. Lew Ford had an intriguing season at Augusta in 2000, hitting .315 with 122 runs and 52 steals, but he also was 24 when he was traded to Minnesota for Hector Carrasco in September. I don't think any of those guys has a high ceiling or will come back to haunt Boston.

Red Sox Nation is up in arms today because the Rangers just promoted Duchscherer to the majors after he went 4-0, 2.08 with a 55-10 strikeout-walk ratio at Double-A Tulsa. He'll start for Texas on Wednesday. But I've had scouts from other organizations tell me he lacks an average major league pitch. He's an extreme finesse pitcher, and the odds of one of them succeeding at the major league level are long.

In general, teams shouldn't trade prospects for stopgap veterans. But all of these moves were made when Boston was in contention and trying to fill a need. None of the players the Red Sox surrendered was considered a "top-flight" prospect at the time of the deal, though I'm sure they'd love to have Reitsma and Tankersley back now. This year, however, they had an emergency need at catcher, and Mirabelli was going to cost them something. That turned out to be Duchscherer, whom Boston felt was expendable.

I'm not trying to sound like a Duquette apologist here. I'm a Red Sox fan, but I'm not enamored of how the club has treated people during his administration and of the paranoid atmosphere that surrounds the front office. But overall, Duquette deserves credit for what he has accomplished in Boston. The Red Sox have been steady contenders, thanks in large part to his moves. They include, in case anyone has forgotten: drafting Nomar Garciaparra, stealing Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek from the Mariners for Heathcliff Slocumb, trading for Pedro Martinez and Carl Everett, and signing Manny Ramirez. It would take a lot of bad moves to outweigh all that good. And don't forget, Duquette once dealt veteran Mike Stanley for pitching prospect Tony Armas Jr., setting the stage for the Martinez trade. If he hadn't, our generation's answer to Sandy Koufax could be wearing pinstripes right now.

    Jason Kinchen is leading Yankees minor leaguers with 22 home runs. Is he considered a prospect? What year was he drafted?

    Bob Michaels
    Aberdeen, N.J.

Kinchen is grabbing some attention, but he's more of a Morgan Burkhart than a classic prospect. There's nothing wrong with that. I happen to like Burkhart and think he could hit in the majors if given the opportunity, especially against lefthanders.

Kinchen wasn't drafted out of Brewton Parker (Ga.) College, so he spent 1997-99 in the independent Heartland and Frontier leagues. In fact, he replaced Burkhart as the Richmond Roosters' slugger after Burkhart signed with the Red Sox in October 1998. Kinchen led his league in homers and slugging percentage in both 1998 and 1999, and the Yankees signed him in October 1999. He helped Staten Island win the short-season New York-Penn League title in his pro debut last year, batting .281-10-50 in 66 games.

This year he has been even stronger, hitting .309-22-59 in 94 games at low Class A Greensboro. But he also has an 81-26 strikeout-walk ratio in 246 at-bats and he's mainly a DH who's limited to first base defensively. Worse, he's 26 and in the South Atlantic League. That he's crushing pitchers four or five years younger than he is doesn't guarantee him success. The Yankees would be well served to promote him quickly and find out if Kinchen is for real. The first basemen ahead of him at the next two levels aren't prospects, so why not?

    Could you please give me some more information on White Sox prospect Corwin Malone? From his stats it looks like he's dominating the South Atlantic League, with more Ks and less hits than innings, an 11-4 record and an ERA of 2.00. Yet I've never heard him mentioned as a top prospect in the system, and I'm wondering why. Thanks.

    Alex Moaba
    Millburn, N.J.

Alex, it sounds like you need a copy of the 2001 Prospect Handbook. White Sox correspondent Phil Rogers ranked Malone as the 14th-best prospect and top lefthander in a very deep system, and Malone is another talented arm Chicago landed in a 1999 draft that also included Matt Ginter, Danny Wright and Jon Rauch. Coming into this year, Malone essentially was a raw arm with a 92-93 mph fastball and little in the way of secondary pitches or command.

Suffice it to say he has added some polish. Malone tore up the low Class A South Atlantic League and he excelled in his first high Class A Carolina League start, allowing one run and four hits in eight innings while striking out 11. Though the White Sox haven't had a lot of good news this year, Malone has been an exception.

    What's the scoop with Eric Cyr of the Lake Elsinore Storm? He's sporting an ERA of 1.36 and a 4-2 record. Is he missing from San Diego's prospect list because of their pitching depth?

    All I know is that he was a 30th-round pick out of Seminole (Okla.) Junior College in 1998 and he's a 6-foot-4 lefty. The Astros are proving you can find ace candidates in the lower rounds (Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller). Is that what this guy is, or is his ceiling more in the range of Ken Dayley?

    Chisholm Dodd
    Salina, Kan.

Cyr didn't make the Padres' offseason Top 30 Prospects list mainly because he hadn't pitched very much. He signed as a draft-and-follow in 1999 and pitched just 79 innings in his first two seasons. He missed much of 2000 after having bone chips removed from his elbow.

Cyr has been healthy this season, though he missed some time for personal reasons. Besides his gaudy record, he also has a 71-12 strikeout-walk ratio in 60 innings and a .183 opponent batting average. At 22, he's not too old for high Class A ball. He throws 91-92 mph and tops out at 94, pretty nice velocity for a southpaw. He has located his fastball very well, and at times he has shown a plus curveball. I wouldn't put him in the Miller/Oswalt class yet, but he's definitely worth keeping an eye on. He's one of the better Canadian prospects in the minors.

July 20, 2001

Frequent Ask BA and BA chat room visitor Mark Peel emailed me after the last edition of Ask BA, saying that he wished I had mentioned my current choice for Minor League Player of the Year after I outlined the criteria we use to determine the winner. I should have done that then, so I'll do it now. At this point, I'll vote for outfielder Adam Dunn, who hit .334-32-84 in 94 Double-A and Triple-A games before the Reds promoted him yesterday. The progress he has made at age 21 this season has been stunning, and he was pretty good to begin with.

Before I get asked, I'll answer whether his callup will help or hurt his chances. In 1990, Frank Thomas won our award after batting .323-18-71 with 112 walks in 109 games at Double-A Birmingham. We also gave him credit for his fine performance in the majors, as he batted .330-7-31 in 60 games with the White Sox. Similarly, if Dunn produces in Cincinnati, he very likely will win the award. If he doesn't, we'll have to consider his 3½ months of outstanding production versus other candidates' full seasons.

    My Giants discussion group has been debating the importance of the summer wood bat leagues in predicting the skills of a position player. As the Giants have drafted Lance Niekro and Todd Linden, both of whom showed great promise in the Cape Cod League and then fell to second-round choices before the draft, this question is of fairly great import to us.

    Does a wood-bat league really give a better read of skills? Have the players who showed ability in the CCL shown that ability in the major leagues?

    Dave Cowen
    San Francisco

Scouts love the wood-bat summer leagues because they do get a much better indication of how good a hitter or pitcher may be at the professional level. Pitchers aren't as breaking-ball crazy and are more willing to work inside, while hitters with swings tailored to the more forgiving aluminum bat can be exposed. Of course, there are going to be players who star in the Cape League who fall short of the majors, just as there are players who excel in Double-A and do the same. But as Orioles special assistant Bob Schaefer, a former Cape player and manager, says, "If a kid can play in that league, he can play."

Mike Bordick and Jeff Reardon might never have been signed if not for their performances on the Cape, and Doug Glanville, Chuck Knoblauch and Billy Wagner were all lightly regarded before winning the Cape's annual top prospect award voted on by scouts. Darin Erstad and Thurman Munson won Cape MVP awards, while Lance Berkman, Munson and Jason Varitek won batting titles. No summer league can match the Cape's tradition of players.

    Why are the Padres keeping Xavier Nady at Lake Elsinore? He's 22 and was highly regarded as a college hitter. He got off to a slow start, but an exceptional hot streak got him up into the California League leaders in most offensive categories for a while, despite playing in one of the better pitcher's parks in the league. He has slumped a bit since then, but is still putting up a respectable .291/.373/.520 and is clearly the best hitter on a team that has gone 66-31. He's striking out too often, but he's drawing his share of walks.

    I know he has had some problems with his elbow, but why is he still in high Class A? I thought Aaron McNeal was having a disappointing season at Double-A, and because they didn't want to move him around, Nady was stuck as well. However, Koonce has taken over for McNeal at Mobile, and I'd be surprised if they're willing to hold up Nady for Gray Koonce. Are the Padres just intent on moving Nady one level a year or do they want to make sure Lake Elsinore wins its division or what?

    Silas Byrne
    New York

The Padres didn't plan on holding back Nady, the best overall hitter available in the 2000 draft. They initially hoped to send him to Triple-A this year after he played in the Arizona Fall League, but elbow problems limited him to one AFL game and changed those plans. There had been some talk that Nady would play second or third base, but his elbow hasn't allowed that to happen yet.

Neither McNeal nor Koonce is going to stand in Nady's way, especially if he keeps hitting like this. San Diego is exercising extreme patience with Nady, though he certainly seems ready for Double-A. The elbow problems can't be the reason, because he's playing first base and hitting in Class A, so he could do the same at a higher level. I'm all for letting a guy have success before he get promoted, but Nady has done that.

    Sean Burnett is having an excellent season (9-6, 2.41, 101 strikeouts and 26 walks in 119 innings) for low Class A Hickory in the Pirates system, especially considering that he's pitching in a full-season league at age 18. My question is what the consensus is as to whether he'll develop more velocity as he matures.

    In other words, I know he's not going to be the next Randy Johnson, but is his ceiling Tom Glavine or is it Jamie Moyer/Denny Neagle? This difference is significant, especially because the Pirates already have too many finesse lefties at the higher levels of their system.

    Joel R. Charny
    Washington, D.C.

Burnett, Pittsburgh's 2000 first-round pick, typically throws 87-88 mph. Because of his age and his slender build (6-foot-1, 172 pounds), he has plenty of strength to grow and time to do it, which means he could get his fastball up to at least major league average, which is 90 mph. His curveball and changeup may be better pitches than his fastball, but he won't be just a soft tosser.

    I would like to know your opinion on a couple of prospects. Braves shortstop Wilson Betemit recently was promoted to Double-A Greenville and looked great in the Futures Game as the ball jumped off his bat. Is he likely to show up soon on the Prospect Hot Sheet? Will he be in Atlanta this year?

    I'm also wondering about Brewers outfielder Cristian Guerrero. The lack of position talent in the organization is causing many loyal Brewers backers to promote him as a savior when his statistics really don't jump out at anyone. Is he a possible star in the future or a future Glenn Braggs or Billy Jo Robidoux?

    Mark Schroeder
    Viroqua, Wis.

Betemit is hitting .379 after a week at Greenville, his overall .285-7-46 isn't quite Hot Sheet-worthy. The No. 11 player on the Hot Sheet, Mariners outfielder Jamal Strong, was batting .362 with 52 stolen bases when the most recent list came out. That's not to take anything away from Betemit, one of the top middle-infield prospects in baseball. To reach Double-A at age 19 is pretty impressive. I don't think he'll be up this year, but he might make it as early as the second half of 2002. Assuming Marcus Giles is the second baseman and Rafael Furcal the shortstop of the Braves' future, Betemit could move over to third base and push Chipper Jones to the outfield.

As for Guerrero, he missed six weeks with a broken foot and is hitting .301-4-20 in 46 games at high Class A High Desert. You're right in that the lack of position players in the Milwaukee system may have resulted in some overhyping of Guerrero. He's still only 20, though he has shown next to no power or plate discipline outside of Rookie ball. I'm not going to consign him to Robidoux status quite yet, but he has to do more offensively before I'll get really excited about him.

July 17, 2001

The Yankees get a lot of things right, obviously, which is why they've won four of the last five World Series. But they appear to have made at least a $4.5 million mistake on Cuban defector Andy Morales, who became redundant once Drew Henson rejoined the club a couple of weeks later. Scott Brosius also has been rejuvenated at the plate, making Morales even less needed. Now Morales apparently has vanished from Double-A Norwich, and the Yankees are trying to have the contracted voided.

One of their arguments centers on his age. Morales, his agent and the club all said he was 26 when he signed, despite a preponderance of evidence that he actually was 29. I don't see how that claim will invalidate the contract, because almost every Cuban defector who has signed with a major league team has shaved a few years off his age. I don't think the clubs actually fall for this, but they usually play along because it makes the player look more promising and the signing more justified. Everyone knows Orlando Hernandez is 36, but the Yankees still continue to list him as 32.

Ask BA readers are also interested in player ages, which factors into three of our questions today. Please remember to include your full name and hometown if you want an answer from us.

    Why are players in their mid-20s in the minors considered old, when if they get a job they could give 10 or more years of quality service in the majors? It surprises me that you think some of the players that are doing good are a little old, especially since some of the top players in the majors are hitting their peak in the mid- to late 30s. Guys that come to mind are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Luis Gonzalez, Big Mac in 1998 and Curt Schilling.

    Barry Gordon
    San Diego

One of the biggest tipoffs as to how good a player will become is the age at which he reaches the major leagues. Of the guys you listed, Bonds, Clemens and Schilling were 21, McGwire was 22 and Gonzalez was the old man at 23. Bonds, Clemens and McGwire had considerable major league success before they reached their mid-20s. I scanned the list of active players who made their major league debuts at 25 or older, and I came up with five players who could be considered stars over a period of years, and that was using the term "star" rather loosely. Three of them had extenuating circumstances: Brian Jordan was playing in the NFL, and Trevor Hoffman and Troy Percival were converting from position players to pitchers. The other two are Randy Johnson, who debuted five days after his 25th birthday, and Roberto Hernandez, who struggled in the minors for four seasons and didn't make it until he was 26.

Not every player in his mid-20s who's in the minors necessarily deserves to be there. There are some Brian Daubachs and John Vander Wals who take a while to get noticed. But in most cases, players are in the minors because they're not ready for the major leagues. If a guy isn't ready until his mid-20s, he might have a decent career but he probably won't be a star. That's why the younger players are more appealing to teams as well as Baseball America.

    How do you, and more importantly Oakland, rate Jacques Landry as a prospect? He is putting up some impressive offensive numbers so far at Midland–32 homers, 81 RBIs and 24 steals–but also is hitting only .248 with an alarming number of strikeouts: 133 in 363 at-bats. Are we looking at another Rob Deer/Russell Branyan with speed, or does he have a higher ceiling than that?

    Michael Stern
    Mohegan Lake, N.Y.

It's hard to get excited about Jacques Landry for a number of reasons and not just his batting average and strikeouts. The first is his age. He's 27 and will turn 28 on August 15. Branyan reached the majors at age 22 and Deer did at 23. Second, Landry is repeating Double-A after hitting an uninspiring .255-18-80 with 143 strikeouts in 127 games at Midland in 2000. Third, Midland is one of the best hitter's parks in the minors and has inflated Landry's numbers. This year, he's batting .316-19-50 in 40 games at Christensen Stadium and .195-13-51 in 50 games elsewhere. Fourth, he wasn't able to cut it as a third baseman and has moved to left field, a position loaded with capable hitters.

I don't believe Landry has much of a ceiling, though it's fun to watch him chase 50 homers this season. I think the fact that the Athletics haven't promoted him is an indication of how much they value him.

    Can you give any background on outfielder Andy Yount, who's playing in the short-season New York-Penn league for the Oneonta Tigers? Is this the same Andy who used to be a pitcher? He seems to be hitting very well.

    Michael Daenzer
    Schaumburg, Ill.

Michael has a sharp eye. That's the same Andy Yount whom the Red Sox made the 15th overall pick in the 1995 draft. Yount missed the entire 1997 and 1998 seasons due to injury, and after returning had lingering problems with a finger on his pitching hand. That made it difficult for him to throw anything offspeed, and he had trouble throwing strikes and avoiding getting hammered. At the end of 2000, his pro record was 3-6, 5.67 in 106 innings.

Yount asked the Tigers to let him attempt to play the outfield. Detroit had considered releasing him and figured there was no downside to letting him try. Yount has hit .324-1-12 with six steals in 21 games, and has drawn 12 walks to boost his on-base percentage to .446. He has shown a strong right-field arm and athleticism to boot. The biggest negative thus far has been his 24 strikeouts. He'll need to make more contact, and at 24 he's probably the oldest player in the New York-Penn League. But his career isn't dead yet. Thanks to BA correspondent Pat Caputo for providing a lot of this background.

    I have a concern more than a question, and I would appreciate your feedback. On the Minor League Player of the Year contest, you seem to have a list of top prospects rather than the best players in the minors this year. The player who should be the Minor League Player of the Year to date is Israel Alcantara, who was hitting .332-28-70 through 82 games. He's not on your list. There are players like Carlos Pena, who was batting .248-13-36 in 74 games, and Jon Rauch, who went 1-3, 5.79 in six starts before being sidelined for the season.

    I know there is an area to write in votes, but it still seems like top prospects are being confused with the top players. I certainly hope that this will not be the case when you hand out your award.

    David Mauro

The players were picked for the contest before the season started, and we simply chose the top prospects who weren't on major league rosters at that point. However, Baseball America always has focused on player development, pure and simple. From day one, our Minor League Player of the Year award has been a combination of performance and future potential.

Alcantara is 28 and he's more of a minor league journeyman than a prospect. He has some hitting ability, particularly against lefthanders, but he's a free swinger with no defensive skills and a noted lack of hustle. Triple-A Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium is a cozy ballpark that has helped Alcantara immensely. He's hitting .375-16-48 in 45 home games, compared to .279-12-22 in 37 road games. The Red Sox have avoided calling him up this season despite his performance, and we'll avoid naming him Minor League Player of the Year.

July 13, 2001

Will he or won't he? As the baseball world waits to see if Fred McGriff accepts his trade to the Cubs–if he does, we'll analyze the move at Trade Central–it has been interesting to see the reaction up here in Chicago. Columnists and fans generally think that McGriff is crazy for not jumping at the chance to leave baseball's saddest franchise to join a playoff contender. My take is he's a 37-year-old guy with a wife and two kids who already has a World Series ring. He signed a two-year extension in late 1999 because he wanted to stay in Tampa, his hometown. He got a no-trade clause in his contract expressly because he didn't want to leave, and how to the Devil Rays reward him? By trading him. To me, it's perfectly understandable why he might turn down the trade. I think the Rays could have handled this in a much more classy fashion, by asking McGriff is he wanted to switch clubs before finalizing the deal and word leaked out.

Trades are theme of Ask BA today, accounting for three of our four questions. Please remember to include your name and hometown when you submit a query. Thanks.

    Recently, the Yankees have made a ton of curious moves. They sent D'Angelo Jimenez, one of the best middle-infield prospects in baseball, to the Padres for Jay Witasick, and traded 19-year-old pitching prospect Ricardo Aramboles for Mark Wohlers. So far Witasick and Wohlers have struggled. After the Yankees got Witasick and Wohlers, they designated Brian Boehringer for assignment and traded him for Bobby Estalella and a 23-year-old Sally League pitcher, Joe Smith. Boehringer arguably has done and will do just as well or better than Witasick or Wohlers this year.

    Just how badly do the Yankees come out of these trades? It seems they've barely upgraded on the major league level, and downgraded significantly in the minors.

    Vishal Desai
    Teaneck, N.J.

The Yankees did give up two pretty good prospects to get Witasick and Wohlers. The Padres have been desperately seeking a shortstop for months, and all of sudden they got one of the best in minors in Jimenez, who should be their starter for a while. And Aramboles, who was coveted by many teams when New York signed him for $1.52 million in February 1998, has a live arm and has made a complete recovery from Tommy John surgery in 1999. I think the Yankees' rationale behind these deals was twofold: They want to win now and they have minor league depth.

For all his tools, Jimenez never was going to wrest the starting shortstop job away from Derek Jeter, and New York still is loaded at that position with prospects such as Erick Almonte, Teuris Olivares, Deivi Mendez, Robinson Cano and Bronson Sardinha. Similarly, the Yankees still have a lot of pitchers working their way up through the minors, led by guys such as Adrian Hernandez, Brett Jodie, Brandon Claussen, Alex Graman, Edison Reynoso, Brian Rogers, Andy Beal and Danny Borrell in the upper minors. I get the sense that owner George Steinbrenner periodically decides that his team needs something, cost be damned.

Overall, while the Yankees overpaid for two relievers, they did strengthen their bullpen and still have plenty of minor league talent. Boehringer probably is in the same class as Witasick and Wohlers, though obviously New York didn't believe that was the case. Once he was designated for assignment, his market value plummeted. The Yankees had 10 days to trade him or just lose him.

    I am writing to ask your opinion about the Padres' position as the trade deadline approaches. San Diego appears to have a surplus of starting pitching. Sterling Hitchcock and Woody Williams appear to have the most trade value among the pitchers the Padres are likely to deal, and Kevin Jarvis has been serviceable and might be of use to a contender as a long reliever.

    My questions are: What do the Padres need? What is the trade value of the three pitchers mentioned? The farm system is stacked with young pitching, and because of recent deals they now have a glut of high-level middle-infield prospects. Corner infielders aren't really a need and there's even a fair amount of young outfield talent. I believe that if GM Kevin Towers could find a top power prospect at any position he would take him, but barring that, I'm confused as to what the Padres should look for. Will Towers use these pitchers to acquire high-risk, high-reward "toolsy" prospects, or try to steal young major leaguers off of contending clubs? One deal I would love to see is the Padres acquire Daryle Ward (possibly in exchange for Williams and Mike Darr).

    Paul Reams
    San Diego

Kevin Towers is one of the best GMs in baseball, especially considering the resources he has had to work with. He doesn't get as much publicity as the Billy Beanes of the world, but he does a fine job in his own right. When teams trade veterans for prospects, they often don't get position-specific. In other words, they'll grab the talent they can and try to sort out where it fits later. The Padres have done that at third base, home of their best position player over the last few years (Phil Nevin) as well as the home of their three best offensive prospects (Sean Burroughs, Xavier Nady and 2001 first-round pick Jake Gautreau).

But if Towers is looking to fill needs, I think he'll look at the middle infield and the outfield. As mentioned above, he pulled off a terrific trade in getting D'Angelo Jimenez from the Yankees. But Damian Jackson has been inconsistent at second base, and I disagree about the system's prospects. San Diego has brought in several middle infielders over the last year, but only Jimenez shows much promise. The Padres' outfield prospects include some intriguing athletes, but only Ben Johnson (acquired at last year's deadline from the Cardinals) has shown much with the bat among that group. San Diego went after power hitters in the 2001 draft, and I expect they'll target power in trade discussions. I'm sure they'd love to get Ward, but the Astros know how valuable he is, even if they don't have an everyday job available for him.

If Hitchcock continues to show that he's reasonably healthy after Tommy John surgery, both he and Williams might command a couple of solid prospects each. Jarvis might bring more of a chance guy.

    Can you settle what's turned into a real knockdown, drag-out fight? We have one group of Cubs fans that thinks Ruben Quevedo is at best a No. 5 starter in the majors. We have another group (of which I am solidly a part) that thinks Ruben is a legit top prospect (rookie ineligibility aside). In fact, I would argue that he would be No. 1 pitching prospect in at least five organizations (Diamondbacks, Yankees, Orioles, Rangers and maybe the Reds). I know the answer changes depending on whether you're talking ceiling, level of advancement, injuries, etc. But taking into account all factors, off the top of your head, what do you think?

    Basically, the first group believes Quevedo should be flipped for someone of the Jeff Conine/John Vander Wal caliber in a trade. The second group thinks he only should go if he can anchor a Phil Nevin-type trade. We're not necessarily saying he's worth a Phil Nevin, just that the smart move is to hold him unless someone is desperate and/or willing to overpay.

    We've agreed to abide by your wisdom–so long as you don't suggest we saw him in half, and trade one half and keep the other!

    Shannon Jaronik

I think the truth lies somewhere in between. Quevedo has a plus arm and he's having a big year at Triple-A Iowa (8-3, 2.52, 130 strikeouts in 122 innings). If he's really 22–and there has been some question of that–he indeed is a nifty prospect. But while I think he might have a chance to be a No. 3 starter as opposed to a No. 5, I don't think he's truly an elite prospect.

I was talking to Friend of BA Kevin Goldstein (who designed this website) the other day and he was saying that when a team has a chance to win, it needs to take advantage. Those opportunities only come around so often, less so for the Cubs. If they can use Quevedo to get a player who can help them make the playoffs, they probably should do it. Juan Cruz, Carlos Zambrano and injured Ben Christensen are all better prospects in my mind. If Chicago can keep Quevedo and trade someone along the lines of Mike Meyers, Steve Smyth or Mike Wuertz, that's all the better.

    Is it true that Matt Harrington still hasn't reached an agreement with the Padres? I heard that he's still in the independent league and doing poorly. Now he has been taken from the starting rotation and won't pitch again this season. Was he taken from the starting rotation due to an injury or something else?

    Al Germano
    Rochester, N.Y.

Harrington wasn't hurt, just ineffective. In six starts with the Northern League's St. Paul Saints, he went 0-2, 9.47 with 18 hits, 18 walks and 17 strikeouts in 19 innings. Harrington, Saints executive vice president Marty Scott and manager Doug Sisson all agreed that pull Harrington from the rotation. Sisson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that it's unlikely Harrington will pitch again for the club this season, though he'll continue to work out on the side while he negotiates with the Padres.

"Right now I'm not pitching well and I'm hurting the team," Harrington told the Pioneer Press. "I have to get more focused. My control hasn't been good, and that's something I need to work out if I'm going to help any team."

Harrington's struggles obviously aren't helping his bargaining position. The seventh overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Rockies, he was San Diego's second-round pick in June.

July 10, 2001

The arrival of the All-Star Game reminds me of when it used to matter a lot more. Before we had ESPN and WGN and TBS and everyone else pumping baseball broadcasts into our homes on a nightly basis, the All-Star Game was a rare chance to see baseball's best players in action, all at once. Now, at least for me, the game comes in a distant third behind the Futures Game (a rare chance to see baseball's minor league players in action, all at once) and Home Run Derby. I would have loved to attend this year's festivities, but my 34-weeks-pregnant wife asked me to stay home. I couldn't refuse, especially after she didn't complain when I went to the College World Series last month. So I'm here in muggy Chicago, answering your questions . . .

    I recently have read reports that top prospects such as Joe Borchard and Sean Burroughs are unlikely to see time at the major league level when the rosters are expanded this fall, as anyone with major league experience couldn't return to the minors next year if there was a strike. Do you think this will affect a lot of callups this fall? Should we expect to see more minor league veterans than true prospects when the rosters are expanded? What's your opinion on the likelihood of a strike and the potential/expected duration?

    Brendan Curtis
    Los Angeles

I think the likelihood of a strike is nil, because the players aren't going to walk out. But a lockout by the owners is definitely a possibility. And if that happens, I can't hazard a guess as to how long it would last. I didn't think there was anyway we'd lose the 1994 World Series, and I was dead wrong. The players aren't going to cave and the courts aren't going to do much for the owners, so I guess the duration would be until the owners decide to let the players come back. I have yet to have anyone rationally explain to me why the players should bail the owners out. I don't even think the owners need bailing. I think most of them make money, because the contracts keep going up and up and up, which must mean the owners have the cash. And every time a team gets sold, it's at a profit. Two words: revenue sharing. That's what the owners need, and it doesn't require a salary cap. Share some portion of revenues, and put in a salary ceiling so the Expos can't take their handout straight to the bank. Perhaps a team should be required to spend at least as much on payroll as it shares in revenues. And don't get me started on contraction. I have talked to some people who are more optimistic than I am, who think the owners and players might sign off on a Basic Agreement that isn't much different from the current one, which won't solve any problems but will at least temporarily spare us from the ugly labor wars to which we've become accustomed. If there is a lockout, players on 40-man rosters would be shut out until it ended, which is why guys like Borchard and Burroughs might not get promoted this season. I think teams will think twice about adding prospects to their 40-man rosters until they have a great sense of what might happen in the offseason. However, contenders probably won't hesitate to bring up anyone who could help them make the playoffs.

    Do you think that Rick Ankiel will stay where he is at in Johnson City for the rest of the season? Or do you think with his recent performance, striking out 15 batters in six innings, will be enough to move him up to Class A Peoria or high Class A Potomac?

    Jason Blasco
    Peoria, Ill.

The Cardinals are going to take things very slow with Ankiel. Even though he's blowing away Rookie-level Appalachian League batters, striking out 15 in six innings in his last start, he also walked three guys and threw three wild pitches in that game. In four Appy League starts, Ankiel is 2-0, 0.41 with six hits, six walks and 41 strikeouts in 22 innings. After his second outing, St. Louis GM Walt Jocketty said the Cardinals would promote Ankiel if he had another strong performance, and Ankiel has had two. But Jocketty now says the team will leave Ankiel in Johnson City for a while. That's a wise move, because at this point, Ankiel just needs to enjoy success and get comfortable. The level of competition doesn't matter. I can't imagine he'll come close to the majors again this season. It's a terribly difficult situation for all involved. What are the Cardinals supposed to do if they move him up to Class A and he goes wild again? I have no idea. I can't come across any examples of a pitcher with Steve Blass Disease (and no underlying injury) ever making it back, so it doesn't look good for Ankiel in the long run.

    Last year the Blue Jays took a player in 26th round named Jeremy Johnson. He was tearing up the Pioneer League with Medicine Hat. I was trying to find where he is now and vamoose! He's gone, fallen off the face of the Earth. So I was wondering if you guys know what happened to him.

    Marc Allen
    Surrey, B.C.

I'll digress for a second. Johnson is a product of Southeast Missouri State, which doesn't get a lot of attention on a national scale but does turn out more than its share of players. Overachieving outfielder Kerry Robinson played for the Indians, as did this year's NCAA Division I ERA leader, Todd Pennington (12-2, 1.33). Pennington was just a 46th-round pick of the Indians, but he has a shot because he has a sweet changeup. Johnson broke several school records before signing with the Blue Jays as a 26th-round pick in 2000. He was a revelation for Toronto, hitting .276-9-58 in 67 games to win MVP honors in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. His tools were close to average or better across the board, and the Blue Jays think he may be a real find. The bad news for now is that he had shoulder surgery in March, which has prevented him from taking the field in 2001. He's assigned to the Class A Charleston (W.Va.) roster.

    What are the scouting reports on Brad Cresse and Rod Barajas? Which one would the Diamondbacks rather have and why?

    Chetanna Onyekwelu

If the Diamondbacks could combine the best attributes of Cresse and Barajas, they'd have a pretty solid all-around catcher. Signed out of a tryout camp, Barajas has a good reputation for handling pitchers. He has a little pop at the plate, but he's a free swinger and has hit just .235 in Triple-A and .202 in the majors. By contrast, Cresse is more of an offensive player. He led NCAA Division I with 30 homers and 106 RBIs in 2000, capping his college career by driving in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the College World Series championship game. A fifth-round pick, he immediately tore up the high Class A California League and did OK in a brief taste of Double-A. He has been steady this year at Double-A El Paso, batting .271-8-43 in 73 games, but he's playing his home games in one of the minors' best hitting parks and has struck out 80 times. Though he'll never win a Gold Glove, Cresse has been better defensively than the Diamondbacks anticipated. He's definitely a better prospect in Barajas. In 2003, Cresse could be Arizona's starter and Barajas could be the backup.

July 6, 2001

We have a passing of the Ask BA torch. Josh Boyd is going to focus on his new column, The Scouting Department, and the Prospect Hot Sheet, and I'm going to take over Ask BA for the immediate future. I hope I can live up to the standard set by Josh, and before him, James Bailey. Just keep those great questions coming, and I'll do my best.

    I just saw Sean Burroughs of the Portland Beavers down in New Orleans. You guys are way, and I mean way overrating this guy. He is a singles-hitting, bad-bodied third baseman. As of July 4, he has 71 base hits and 51 of them are singles. He has hit only four home runs. He's a way below-average runner and defender, and his arm is only average. How can this guy be the next coming? I think you are caught in the hype. Don't believe it.

    Rob Dunshie
    Cypress, Texas

Rob, don't believe what you're writing. Ask a scout about Sean Burroughs, and he just might tell you that Burroughs is the best pure hitter in the minor leagues. Burroughs is 20, has been pushed aggressively by the Padres and has met every challenge along the way. In 293 pro games, he has hit .330. Granted, his 12 homers aren't what you'd want out of a third baseman. But scouts will also tell you that with good young lefthanded hitters, power is often the last tool to develop. Look at George Brett or Jason Giambi, to cite two examples. While I'm not saying that Burroughs will develop Giambi power, I'm more impressed by his career strikeout-walk ratio (136-159) than I'm worried about his home run total. As gets more experience he'll better recognize which pitches he can drive, and as he gets older he'll take better advantage of them. With 78 career doubles, he already has shown good gap power. I'm confident that he'll develop over-the-fence power. And I'm not sure about how you assess his other tools. Maybe you saw him on a bad night, but the reports on Burroughs are that he has a plus arm, solid third-base tools and decent speed. I think 30 organizations would love to have Sean Burroughs right now.

    I haven't read much lately about Felipe Lopez, shortstop in the Blue Jays organization. He's currently at Triple-A Syracuse and seems to be doing quite well. I would think that any 21-year-old shortstop who's having a year like his at Triple-A is probably a stud prospect. What's your opinion? Also, how great (or small) is the Blue Jays' attachment to their current shortstop, Alex Gonzalez? Is Lopez his designated heir apparent?

    Brian Frasure

We've been big Felipe Lopez fans for a while. He ranked No. 32 on our preseason Top 100 Prospects list, and fifth among shortstops. Actually third, if you figured that Alfonso Soriano and Wilson Betemit, who were listed as shortstops ahead of Lopez, won't play there in the majors. Lopez was the eighth overall pick in 1998 and was developing nicely until Toronto skipped him a level and prematurely put him at Double-A last year. Lopez hit a soft .257 there, but he has recovered to bat .290 with a .483 slugging percentage at Syracuse in 2000. He still needs to work on his strike-zone discipline, but he has been pretty impressive, especially considering that defense is his calling card. He might push Gonzalez as early as next year. Gonzalez never has lived up to his tools, settling in as a consistent .250-15-65 shortstop. Cesar Izturis also figures into Toronto's middle-infield mix, and both he and Lopez have seen time at second base this year. Personally, I think Lopez is the most talented of the three.

    Just wondering if you could help me out on the whereabouts of Cristian Guerrero and Wes Anderson.

    Jay Lalach
    Regina, Saskatchewan

Guerrero, who broke his foot when he fouled a pitch off it in mid-May, returned to high Class A High Desert on July 3, going 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter and then going 0-for-3 in his first start back in right field the next day. Guerrero has hit for average in his second crack at full-season ball after batting .164 in 15 games at low Class A Beloit last year, but he hasn't shown much power or on-base ability. To be fair, at 20 he's one of the youngest players in the California League. Anderson, perhaps the Marlins' best pitching prospect not named Josh Beckett, went 1-6, 5.63 at high Class A Brevard County before getting shut down with a strain in his lower back. Something was obviously wrong with him from the start of the season, but he tried to pitch through it before admitting to the back pain. Marlins farm director Rick Williams says the tentative timetable is for Anderson to throw his first batting practice on July 9, head to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League for a rehab stint after that and return to the Manatees on July 21 or 22 if he continues to progress. Anderson has been trying to strengthen his lower back to avoid similar problems in the future.

    Why do you continue to ignore Double-A Huntsville's Jose Garcia? A couple of years ago you had him projected as the Brewers' ace. After a lost season to injuries in 1999, you've dropped him from the Brewers' Top 15 Prospects list, and we never hear about him anymore. While there's no denying Nick Neugebauer has a more lively arm, Garcia has posted a significantly better ERA, WHIP and BA against than Neugebauer while toiling in oblivion. Is there something I'm missing about him?

    Jeff Vasey
    Waterloo, Ontario

We're not ignoring him. Garcia did appear in our first-ever Prospect Handbook, a must for any serious fan's library. Garcia checked in at No. 24 on Milwaukeešs Top 30. He missed all of 1999 with an elbow injury that never showed up on an MRI or bone scan, and rehab couldn't cure it. When doctors finally opened up his elbow, they found crystallized fluid but no ligament or bone damage. After having the fluid removed, Garcia pitched off and on at Huntsville last year. He has been fully healthy in 2001, going 6-2, 2.66 with 68 hits, 35 walks and 69 strikeouts in 85 innings through 16 starts. Hešs still building up arm strength, throwing in the low 90s on occasion but not as regularly as he did before 1999. His curveball has been a good second pitch, and his control has been better than it ever has been. I think it's safe to say he could crack the Top 15 this year if he keeps it up. But don't put him in Neugebauer's class. Neugebauer has thrown a consistent 94-95 mph and reached triple digits, which is nothing new, but he also has thrown a good deal of strikes, which is. His record isn't very inspiring at 4-5, 3.60, but he has fanned 110 in 85 innings while permitting 81 hits and 42 walks. He has been hit more than he has in the past, though that's just something he's going through as he refines his command.

By Josh Boyd

July 3, 2001

The Prospect Hot Sheet has been one of the most popular additions to Baseball America Online. We receive tons of e-mail regarding the list each time it is posted. Those of you not familiar with it should check it out now.

The Hot Sheet is subjective, of course, and it is not intended to be a collection of all-stars or a replacement for our annual Top 100 Prospects list. For example, on the Hot Sheet, Corey Patterson and Josh Hamilton have faded because it's hard to consider them "hot prospects" right now. But if we were to do our Top 100 Prospects today, they might not rank Nos. 1 and 2 but they'd both be in the top ten.

We try to balance performance with tools and long-term big league ceiling. That's why you won't find Pawtucket's Izzy Alcantara or Calgary's Mike Gulan anywhere near the Hot Sheet though they are mashing in Triple-A. The better pure prospects have an advantage in the rankings. The Hot Sheet provides a snapshot of the way we feel about prospects at the time.

Still, you have plenty of questions about why the rankings come out as they do. Here are some answers:

    How can you put Justin Morneau, Jamal Strong and Sean Burroughs before Jason Lane? This guy is second in the minors in home runs and has 80 RBIs. I know he is only in Double-A, but this guy kills all pitchers and nobody is taking him seriously. He is a better prospect than Nick Johnson or Burroughs. Could you tell me why you feel he should be No. 6?
    Jamie Gibson

Josh Beckett, Adam Dunn, Burroughs, Morneau and Strong were all ranked ahead of Lane on the June 26 Hot Sheet. How can that be?

First of all, he is not a better prospect than Johnson or Burroughs. He is having a better year, but Johnson and Burroughs are both potential all-stars. Johnson is a first baseman in the Sean Casey mold, while Burroughs will win a batting title or two before he's done.

Being ranked No. 6 on this list is no slap in the face to Lane, though. The jury is out on his ceiling, though. After two seasons in the lower levels, Lane is erupting in the Texas League as a 24-year-old. One of the things that separates Morneau, Burroughs and Johnson is age. Again, that doesn't take anything away from what Lane's performance, but his ceiling just is not in the same neighborhood. Lane is just beginning to establish his profile as a prospect. In our Prospect Handbook, he was ranked No. 22 in his own organization in part because he was a college player in the low Class A Midwest League.

Part of the reason that Lane actually dropped a couple of slots was that from June 12-26, he hit a relative cold streak, while Burroughs, Strong and Morneau all heated up. That's where the balance between performance and prospect status comes in. But, don't get us wrong, we like Jason Lane.

    Not to nitpick--the list is certainly chock full o' studs--but I can't believe some of the names left off the "also receiving votes" list. I can see omitting Bobby Hill (DL) and Izzy Alcantra. But how about Morgan Ensberg, Marlon Byrd and Doug Nickle? Ensberg, in particular, seems just a few more Vinny Castilla oh-fers away from a callup. Byrd's a little old, but he's proving he's a five-tool performer. The way the Phillies and their pen have been imploding of late, Nickle, their closer of the future, seems deserving of a trip to the majors.
    Mark Brown

If Hill was healthy and performing as he was early in the season, I can guarantee he would be mentioned somewhere on the list. As mentioned earlier, Alcantara just isn't our kind of prospect. He could probably help a big league team as a role player with his power, but his ceiling is limited.

The bottom line is we can't list every prospect that's doing well. The list is limited to 12 top prospects and a handful of others--a select group when you consider how many minor leaguers are competing for recognition.

Ensberg, Byrd and Nickle are legitimate candidates, though. Part of what works against them is that Byrd was the highest-ranked in his own organization entering the year (No. 10 for the Phillies). As a 23-year-old in Double-A, Byrd is not that old. He was considered old for the South Atlantic League last year, but in skipping the high Class A Florida State League, Byrd took care of that problem. He's not quite a five-tooler either, as his arm is average at best. At 26, Nickle is a bit old, and the Phillies' bullpen struggles aren't considered in Hot Sheet rankings. Ensberg would have been our choice to replace Chris Truby over Vinny Castilla earlier this year as well.

    I just read your updated Prospect Hot Sheet and found a glaring oversight. I would like you to check out Lyle Overbay's stats for every year he has been in professional baseball. Overbay is leading the Double-A Texas League in hitting. He was the Pioneer League MVP in 1999 and made the jump from Class A South Bend to El Paso in 2000 without missing a beat, hitting in the .330 range all year. Thanks for your time, and I know you can't list everybody but this guy is going to make it, if not for the Diamondbacks then for some other team.
    Larry Heinz
    Rochester, Wash.

Again, we can't list everyone. I guess we could, but making the Hot Sheet wouldn't mean much then.

Overbay has proven to be an excellent professional hitter, and he probably will make it, with Arizona or somewhere else. But to say that leaving a 24-year-old first baseman with average power potential off the list is a "glaring oversight" might be a bit strong. Everything suggests that Overbay will continue to hit, no matter what level of pitching he's facing, but his ceiling is limited.

Tell you what, Larry. We'll give you Overbay and you give us Josh Hamilton. Let's get together in five years and see who works out better.

    I'm not saying he should necessarily make the top 12, but why has Mike Cuddyer received such minimal attention? After a slow start, his average is .277 and he has 21 doubles and 20 home runs. The reason I ask is because he is hardly a surprise, being a first-round draft choice in 1997. What do you think his chances are of doing well at the major league level?
    John Althouse

Working against Cuddyer: His stock dropped last year as his performance didn't match his expectations; and he is repeating Double-A. We are encouraged by his turnaround this season. He has already established a career-high in home runs and should surpass his previous bests in doubles and RBIs.

It's hard for us to say Cuddyer has received minimal attention, though. We ranked him as the top prospect in the Twins organization after both the 1998 and 1999 seasons, and he fell all the way to No. 2 after last season.

    What do you think of the Cardinals' Chris Narveson? He's torn up two levels of Class A so far. Where would he rank now on their prospect list?
    Don Williams
    Los Angeles

I think it's safe to say that Narveson will make his Hot Sheet debut on the upcoming list. As for where he would rank in the Cardinals system, I think Narveson, who ranked No. 15 prior to the season, has definitely catapulted into the top five. His rapid progress and dominant performance, coupled with injuries in a thin Cardinals organization would rank him just after fellow lefthander Bud Smith and 2000 first-rounder Blake Williams. John Gall and Jimmy Journell have helped themselves as much as any other prospects in a system cursed with injuries and disappointing performances.

June 26, 2001

Like Josh Hamilton and Drew Henson, Ask BA returns! And everybody wants to know about the Futures Game roster. So welcome back and here we go.

    First, where has Ask BA gone? Second, when does BA plan to publish an evaluation of the 2001 draft? Do you wait until the majority of players who will probably sign have done so?
    Jeff Nold
    Atlanta, Ga.

Ask BA took a sabbatical due to the draft and College World Series coverage, primarily, but it is back now. Thanks to all of those who continued to send in your questions.

We usually put our draft report cards out after instructional leagues, which will be sometime in October. This way, the players who have signed get some pro exposure and the club officials have all had a chance to see whose tools stand out the most and who was a pleasant surprise.

    I am wondering why Chin-Feng Chen wasn't selected for the World Team in the All-Star Futures Game in Seattle on July 8? I understand that he had a surgery and didn't do too good that year and this year. But isn't he full of potential? I mean, he's ranked as the No. 2 prospect of Dodgers farm. Kind of disappointed for not getting to see him play in Seattle this July.
    Ying-Ju Chen

First of all, Chen played in the first two Futures Game, collecting four hits in doing so. We were encouraged to not include prospects that played in the first two games, a la Vernon Wells, Corey Patterson and Chen. Then there's also the fact that Chen hasn't progressed since he burst onto the scene in '99. Yes, he was the Dodgers No. 2 prospect, based on his tools, but last year was a major disappointment, some of which can be attributed to his since surgically-repaired shoulder. In the first half this year, Chen didn't do a whole lot in Class A Vero Beach, a level lower than last year, to re-establish himself as an upper-echelon prospect. He's still just 23 years old and essentially rehabbing in the Florida State League; however, he has just 14 home runs and 27 steals in 201 games since posting the California League's first-ever 30-30 (31-31) campaign in '99.

    How did Josh Beckett not get picked for the Futures game? He was 6-0, 1.23 in Brevard and many people consider him the best pitching prospect in baseball. The only thing I can think of is the Marlins don't want to mess up his pitching schedule. But wouldn't they select him anyway and just replace him later?
    Joe Blackman
    Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.

Trust us, we wanted Beckett there, starting for the U.S. team, as much as you did. He was a no-brainer to include on the roster, but the Marlins had other ideas. They are using extra caution with his development and don't want to disrupt the rhythm he has established over the first three months. Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski told us the fact that Beckett pitched in the Futures Game last year also figured in. In the latest issue of Baseball America you can read more comments from Dombrowski in the Grapevine.

    What do you make of a pair of lefthanders currently at Class A Frederick: Erik Bedard and Richard Stahl?
    Andy Conner
    Conshohocken, PA

Both lefthanders were initially selected to the Futures Game but they are each battling injuries that will prevent them from making the trip to the great Northwest in July. The Orioles say neither injury is considered to be too serious, but Stahl is down in the Orioles' Sarasota, Fla., complex on a strengthening program, while Bedard remains with the team in Frederick working out some soreness. They have to be considered the top two lefthanded prospects in the system at this point (Beau Hale is the best from the right side). Stahl possesses the highest ceiling in the organization, with Matt Riley on the shelf after Tommy John surgery with no return in sight for the 2001 season. A wiry, young lefty, Stahl has shown dramatic improvement with his command and overall feel for pitching this season. Bedard rose from relative obscurity in the first half, and features an above-average curveball that has helped him to strike out better than a hitter per inning. Plus, he's Canadian, and we love to highlight good Canadian players at BA.

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