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By Jim Callis

April 30, 2002

We're officially deep into draft season at Baseball America, which means working the phones at all hours. Keep the draft questions coming, and I'll keep trying to crank out two Ask BAs per week amidst all the calls. We're really going to start blowing out our draft coverage on the web in the next couple of weeks, and we'll lead off with that subject today.

First, though, a quick followup on Mitch Jones, the Yankees farmhand who eschewed singling for as long as he could (50 at-bats, to be precise). David Carlton of Mountain View, Calif., points out that Eric Chavez nearly did the same thing for the Athletics this year, not singling until his 42nd at-bat. Up to that point, Chavez had three doubles, a triple and six homers. Currently, Chavez' TB/1B ratio stands at 8.5, while Jones is at an amazing 25.0.

    Could you perhaps give us a prediction on the first five picks of the draft? Who do you think will be the second hitter to be drafted? And finally, who is the best pitcher in the draft, in your opinion? Thanks.

    Josh Krauss
    Darnestown, Md.

We'll probably be asked this a lot between now and when the draft kicks off on June 4, and a lot can change in the next five weeks. But here's an educated guess as to where things stand at this point, and we'll throw in the sixth pick for free:

1. Pirates. B.J. Upton, ss, HS/Chesapeake, Va.
2. Devil Rays. Adam Loewen, lhp, HS/Surrey, B.C.
3. Reds. Scott Kazmir, lhp, HS/Houston
4. Orioles. Bobby Brownlie, rhp, Rutgers
5. Expos. Bryan Bullington, rhp, Ball State
6. Royals. Zach Greinke, rhp, HS/Orlando

The only one of those six clubs with deep pockets is the Orioles, and so they're the one team to which I assigned a Scott Boras client. Like he did in 2000, Boras represents several top prospects, but in a year that lacks marquee talent, signability very well may outweigh ability.

There's no consensus second-best position player in the draft. If it's a college guy, it's probably Clemson third baseman Jeff Baker, whose bat has started to come on as of late. There are a number of high school possibilities, led by outfielder (and Clemson-bound defensive back) Jeff Francouer of Lilburn, Ga., and shortstop Scott Moore of Cypress, Calif. Of course, it just takes one team to like a guy for him to go early, so maybe someone do something like opting for the enticing pop (and frightening build) of Prince Fielder, Cecil's son. I think the second hitter will go at either No. 8 (Tigers), No. 9 (Rockies) or No. 10 (Rangers), and if I have to choose one I'll say Detroit will take Moore.

I'll give two answers as to the best pitcher in the draft. I think the safest choice would be Brownlie, who has established himself in college (including the Cape Cod League and Team USA). He throws in the mid-90s (though he could use some more life on his fastball) and has a big-time curveball. But the guy right now whose stuff intrigues me the most is Kazmir, who also reaches the mid-90s, has sharp breaking stuff and an advanced changeup and command for a high schooler. Loewen, who has a similar arsenal and is six inches taller, could surpass Kazmir down the road.

    Given Jason Tyner's struggles at the top of the Devil Rays lineup combined with Carl Crawford's terrific start at Triple-A Durham, do you think they'll become tempted to bring Crawford up? Or will they still keep him at Durham most of the year? Also it is early and a small sample size, but given Hank Blalock's struggles, do you think he should have started the season in Triple-A?

    Rick Watson
    Palm Harbor, Fla.

I don't doubt that Crawford could produce more than Tyner has if Tampa Bay promoted him today. Having Tyner as a regular rather than as a fifth outfielder is a sign that your team needs lots of help. But if I were the Devil Rays, I'd leave Crawford in Durham for two reasons.

First, he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the season. Tampa Bay could find someone to remove to make room for Crawford, but there's still no reason to get the clock ticking on his arbitration and free-agent rights with the club not having any realistic aspirations beyond fourth place in the American League East. Second, Crawford still could stand to tighten his strike zone. While he's hitting .354-4-12 with a .667 slugging percentage through 24 games, he has just seven walks versus 17 strikeouts. I see no harm in allowing him to continue to tear up the International League for at least another couple of months while he works on his plate discipline.

I won't second-guess the decision to promote Blalock to the majors. He overmatched Double-A pitchers in the second half of 2001, and he continued to hit in the Arizona Fall League and spring training. Plenty of players have jumped from that level to the big leagues and done just fine. However, I'm surprised that he hit just .182 in his first 22 games, and frankly stunned that he struck out 25 times in 66 at-bats. With the Rangers headed nowhere fast once again, I'd get Blalock out of a bad situation and led him regroup in Triple-A for a while.

    Do the Phillies have a legitimate third base prospect to take over for Rolen if/when he leaves? Who will be available via trade/free agency that the Phillies could get to (cough) replace Rolen?

    Hunter Willis
    Columbus, Ohio

Entering the season, Philadelphia's best third-base prospect was Terry Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2001 who projects to hit for power and be a solid defender. But he doesn't figure to be ready before 2005, so he won't succeed Rolen, who almost assuredly will depart.

So what the Phillies have done is to move 2000 first-round pick Chase Utley from second to third base and jump him from high Class A to Triple-A. Few scouts thought Utley would be able to play second base all the way up the ladder. He's struggling some at the hot corner, with eight errors in 24 games, but he has jump-started his bat. After hitting .257-16-59 last year, he's off to a .310-4-16 start. If he can keep hitting like that and improve with the glove, Utley very well could get the chance to replace Rolen next year.

The best free-agent possibility might be Edgardo Alfonzo, though he's sure to attract a lot of interest and may move back to second base. Put it this way: Once the Phillies lose Rolen, they're looking at a serious downgrade at third base.

April 26, 2002

Asking readers to submit their findings has bolstered our age discrepancy chart. We're now up to 123 names, which I still believe is probably less than half the actual total. Thanks to BA loyalists Kevin Anstrom (Durham, N.C.), Max Del Rey (Pelham, N.Y.), Dennis Lunford and Wilbur Miller (Silver Spring, Md.) for unearthing the latest two dozen additions, each of which was independently verified by BA webmaster Will Kimmey.

Continuing my annoying recent string of making minor errors in Ask BA, last time I lumped Drew Henson in with the banner group of high school hitters who went in the first 50 picks in the 1998 draft. Henson would have gone early in the first round had he not wanted to spend part of his time playing quarterback at the University of Michigan, but he went in the third round and not in the top 50.

    I hate to harp on the age issue, but as a Red Sox fan I can't help but think our farm system has dropped into Cardinals territory with the recent birthday bonanza of our Class A prospects. Our young pitchers seem to be way behind the development curve at their new ages. Do you think this adds salt to our wounds? And please, if Tony Blanco comes back from his injury three years older, don't tell me!

    Jeff DiBlasi
    Denville, N.J.

We rated the Red Sox as the 28th-best organization before all of the age revelations, so they already were in the same territory as the Cardinals, who ranked 30th and last. The revisions don't really affect Boston as a whole, though it's not a good sign that the top four non-Asian foreign players on their list all suddenly got older.

Now we know that the Sox' No. 3 prospect, righthander Rene Miniel (who went from 21 to 23), was old for the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2001 and for the high Class A Florida State League this year. Making matters worse, he's getting rocked at Sarasota. No. 9 Anastacio Martinez (21 to 23), a righthander, has been a step ahead of Miniel, but it's now apparent that he hasn't been young for his leagues. No. 10 Franklin Francisco (21 to 22), a righthander, aged just nine months, which isn't nearly as troubling as his control woes in 2002.

Cuban first baseman Juan Diaz, the No. 12 prospect, is one of the few non-Dominicans to get caught up in Agegate. He's 28 rather than 26, and in his case his age isn't much of a factor. He wasn't young to begin with, and his issue always has been his weight. He has plenty of power and could mash most major league lefthanders right now, but he just doesn't care enough to get in anything resembling decent shape.

If I had known these true ages when I was doing the Red Sox Top 10 Prospects list, I probably would have left Miniel at No. 3 because the next two guys were a righthander who hadn't pitched above the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League (Manny Delcarmen) and a lefthander with a limited ceiling (Casey Fossum). Martinez and Francisco likely would have been replaced by righties Mat Thompson and Brad Baker.

    When the Mariners signed Shin-Soo Choo as a hitter, it was rather surprising to me because he was the ace of his high school team and won the national MVP several times as a pitcher. Articles said Seattle rated Choo's pitching abilities highly, but chose to make him a hitter because it would be less risky in terms of injuries and success rate. Just a few days ago, I read that Jung Bong was an excellent power hitter in high school and was MVP at the World Junior Championships in 1997. However, the Braves signed him as a pitcher and it had me wonder why. Bong has been pretty solid as a pitcher, but has it been worth ignoring his hitting ability? In general, is there a case where a player who was originally signed as a pitcher converted to a hitter later in their career, or vice versa?

    Jin Chun

It's a Catch-22 situation with two-way talents. Good pitchers are harder to find than good hitters, but they're also harder to develop. The Mariners just felt that Choo's upside as a potential five-tool center fielder outweighed the possible benefits of putting him on the mound. Incidentally, he also was a World Junior Championships MVP, in 2000. By contrast, the Braves believed that Bong offered more upside as a pitcher. Both teams are pleased with how their Korean prospects have developed thus far.

This issue arose last year with Pirates first-round pick John VanBenschoten, whom most teams pegged as a prototypical right fielder. Pittsburgh liked him more as a pitcher. The Bucs allowed him to pitch and DH in his pro debut last year, but he's on the mound full-time in 2002. They did the same thing with their 1998 first-round pick, Clint Johnston. More teams liked him as a hitter, but the Pirates focused him on pitching with no success. The Blue Jays took him in the Triple-A Rule 5 draft last December with the intent of making him a first baseman.

Off the top of my head, Guillermo Mota, Felix Rodriguez, Jorge Sosa and Tim Wakefield come to mind as current major league pitchers who began their pro careers as position players. One of the best pitching prospects in the minors, Mariners righthander Rafael Soriano, was originally an outfielder. Players who can't hit but have a strong arm often get a second chance on the mound. That's what the White Sox currently are trying to do with their 1997 first-round pick, Jason Dellaero.

That route is more common than going from pitcher to hitter. Ryan Klesko was a hotshot high school pitching prospect before he hurt his arm as a senior. Likewise, budding Reds slugger Austin Kearns projected as a first-round pick as a pitcher before the velocity on his fastball plunged in his final year in high school. Hard as it is to believe, they once were more coveted for their mound prowess.

    I'm wondering if there's something I missed about last year's Brewers draft that prevents you from raving about it. I know you like first-round righthander Mike Jones. Second-round shortstop J.J. Hardy is a 19-year-old already playing well in high Class A. Third-round righthander Jon Steitz has been unimpressive so far, but was regarded as a decent pick. Fourth-round first baseman Brad Nelson, like Steitz, was considered a possible first-round pick at one point. And to top it off, they have the premier draft-and-follow prospect in Manny Parra, who has been awesome. Given the lack of talent this year, I can't see how the Brewers will fail to get Parra signed. By my count, a team with one first-round pick got three or four first-round talents in a good draft class. So where's the buzz?

    Jason Belter
    St. Paul

We don't usually "rave" about a draft until the players work their way to the upper levels of a farm system, but we've been very positive about the Brewers' 2001 effort. It's precisely the kind of draft that Milwaukee needs to keep having to pump some life into a moribund organization.

Jones has the best arm in the system. Hardy's glove and athleticism are his strong points, and he's off to a surprising start with the bat this year after being jumped to the California League. Steitz has done nothing but get shelled since signing, and that's going to start becoming a major concern if he doesn't turn it around soon. Nelson was one of the best power hitters available in the draft. After going homerless in his pro debut, he's tapping into his strength this year, with four longballs and a .609 slugging percentage in his first 17 games in the Midwest League.

Parra, a lefthander, decided to return to American River (Calif.) JC for his sophomore year rather than sign immediately. But the Brewers control his rights and can land him between the end of his juco season and May 28. His fastball has jumped about 6 mph to the 90-94 range, and he's polished his secondary pitches and command as well. No doubt, Milwaukee will make a strong effort to get him, furthering bolstering an already promising draft.

    Have you noticed the unusual start outfielder Mitch Jones got off to at Double-A Norwich this year? He lasted 50 at-bats without hitting a single. That probably isn't unprecedented, but the fact that he accumulated 20 total bases, on four home runs and two doubles, before getting that first single might be. Do you remember any other player getting off to a streak like this?

    Bill Tarr
    San Diego

Jones has been a high-power, low-average hitter since signing as a seventh-round pick with the Yankees out of Arizona State in 2000. In his first two years, he hit a combined .240 but had a .463 slugging percentage. He finally got his first single this season, but he's really struggling with a .131 average through 16 games.

There are no record of players with similar streaks, but I did research the players who had the highest ratio of total bases to singles in a minor league season since 1990, with a minimum of 200 at-bats. Here are the leaders:

Matt RaleighBinghamtonNYM1997204267.85
Alex CabreraAZL/El Paso/TucsonAri2000251386.60
Rob DeerLas VegasSD1996136226.18
Shane SpencerColumbusNYY1997241415.88
Russ BranyanKinston/AkronCle1997269475.72
Robert StrattonSt. LucieNYM2000200365.56
Russ BranyanBuffaloCle2000132245.50
Andy BaxterBurlingtonCle2001108205.40
Joe PomierskiEverettSea1995102195.37
Aaron GuielLas VegasSD1999128245.33

I should have known Matt Raleigh would have topped the list. He had my favorite statistical line from the 1990s: .197 AVG, 398 AB, 78 H, 37 HR, 71 R, 74 RBI, 79 BB, 169 SO, .330 OBP, .513 SLG. It's not too often that you see a guy with more walks than hits, or an OPS that's four times as high as his batting average.

April 23, 2002

I haven’t forgotten about the great minor league pitching staffs. I’m oh so close to finishing that project, at least as best I can back to 1930, but the hard drive on my computer crashed and I can’t access my research until the new one arrives.

I hope everyone noticed that we have 18 more additions to our age discrepancies chart, which I think pushes us close to 100. All of the latest guys come from the Cubs (via Ask BA reader Craig Jasperse of Fargo, N.D.), the Phillies (via BA reader Jeff Gambino) and the Red Sox (via correspondent John Tomase). I think Craig and Jeff located Chicago’s and Philadelphia’s culprits by comparing the birthdates on those teams’ rosters at to those that had been published previously. I still suspect our list, which now approaches 100 names, contains less than half the actual amount of discrepancies, most of which have not been publicized. If anyone else wants to undertake the research, please email your findings either to Ask BA or BA webmaster Will Kimmey. We’ll be more than happy to give credit where credit is due.

Another vigilant Ask BA reader, Mike Hobson of St. Louis, pointed out that my Chris Narveson answer last Friday contained an error. Narveson was shut down in August but didn’t have Tommy John surgery until October.

    I have a followup to your April 19 Ask BA, in which you rated the top 10 position prospects while discussing the future of Wily Mo Pena. I was very surprised to see Drew Henson rated sixth. Sure, Henson is off the charts on the Hypometer, thanks to the unique combination of football skills, the University of Michigan and the Yankees. But he rates rather low for actual performance on the field. In 67 at-bats this year, hešs batting .254/.261/.358 with one walk and 18 strikeouts. This continues a run of less-than-stellar performances since he began his baseball career. Isn't it getting to be time for Henson to have an impact on the field to justify his prospect status?

    Joel Charny
    Washington, D.C.

That list came straight from my personal Top 150 Prospects list before the season (Four BA editors did these as we began to put the overall Top 100 together.) I don’t read too much into statistics from the first three weeks of the season, because the sample size is so small, so I just took the major leaguers (Hank Blalock, Sean Burroughs, etc.) off my preseason list.

Of course, as Joel mentions, it’s not like Henson has torn the cover off the ball as a pro. Coming into 2002, he batted .259-35-131 in 240 pro games. But I still give Henson the benefit of the doubt because of the way he performed in 1999, the one time to this point that he has been healthy and focused as a pro. Jumping from Rookie ball to high Class A without the benefit of spring training, Henson hit .280-13-37 with 26 walks in 69 games in the Florida State League at age 19. Since then, he almost gave up baseball for football after being traded to the Reds (in 2000), and was hampered by a broken wrist that severely curtailed his power (in 2001).

I still believe a healthy Henson can be somewhere between a Scott Rolen and a Mike Schmidt. His tools are that good, and he has shown plate discipline in spurts in the past. He’s still just 22 and he looked great in the Arizona Fall League after he got healthy last year. But I do agree that he does have to start delivering more. If Henson doesn’t take some major steps forward this season, I’ll move him well down my list.

    At the time they were drafted, what were the scouting reports on Mark Prior (when the Yankees took him out of high school), Mark Teixeira (when the Red Sox selected him at the same time), Nic Jackson, Marlon Bryd and Albert Pujols? What made these wonderful or potentially wonderful talents drop as far as they did? If scouts could go back in time, would the Yankees and Red Sox sign Prior and Teixeira, and would Pujols have gone higher then the 13th round?

    C.J. Keller
    Prattville, Ala.

Prior projected as a fifth-round pick entering 1998, and pitched his way up to consensus second-round status by draft time. But he also was strongly committed to attending Vanderbilt, which scared some teams off. The Yankees made him a supplemental first-rounder (43rd overall), and decided not to pressure him with a huge sales pitch. They eventually offered him $1.5 million, but they didn’t do so until late in the summer, by which point Prior had decided he would go to college. He admits the decision would have been much tougher had they tendered that bonus earlier.

In a terrific year for high school hitters–Sean Burroughs, Adam Dunn, Henson, Austin Kearns, David Kelton and Corey Patterson all went in the top 50 picks–Teixeira’s bat was viewed as definite first-round caliber. But the Red Sox did a lot of predraft work on him and put out the word that he was all but unsignable. That didn’t stop them from taking him in the ninth round and putting on a full-court press with a $1.5 million offer of their own. That might have been enough to get it done had Boston not alienated the Teixeiras with the way it treated Mark.

Jackson figured to go in about the fifth round at the outset of 2000, but he had injured the middle finger on his right hand while playing in the Cape Cod League the previous summer. That cost him half his junior season, and he didn’t appear on the radar of a lot of teams. The Cubs, however, saw enough to take him in the third round, with a compensation pick they got for the loss of free agent Steve Trachsel. Suffice it to say Chicago would make that trade again.

Byrd was a highly regarded player out of high school in 1995, but he severely injured his right leg as a freshman at Georgia Tech and wound up at Georgia Perimeter JC. By the time the 1999 draft came around, he was almost 22 and hadn’t proved himself beyond the junior college level. Throw in some lingering physical questions, and he lasted until the 10th round of the draft.

Like Prior and Jackson, Pujols entered his draft year looking like a fifth-round pick. He graduated from high school in December 1998 and spent 1999 at Maple Woods (Mo.) CC. Teams weren’t exactly sure what to make of him, and he let it be known that he wanted a six-figure bonus, so he lasted until the Cardinals popped him in the 13th round. The two sides couldn’t come to terms immediately, so Pujols went to the Jayhawk League, one of the top amateur summer circuits, and hit .343 with power while using wood bats. That convinced St. Louis to up its offer from $10,000 to $60,000, and Pujols signed.

It’s very safe to say that the Yankees and Red Sox rue letting Prior and Teixeira get away, especially for less than one-sixth of what each got three years later. Jackson, Byrd and Pujols all would have been early first-round picks had teams known then what they know now.

    Why did Phil Nevin bloom so late? Houston drafted him out of Cal State Fullerton with the No. 1 overall pick in 1992. The Astros got so frustrated with his slow development that they traded him to the Tigers in 1995 for Mike Henneman. While in Detroit he tried everything, including catching, just to get in some playing time. The Tigers gave up and sent him to the Angels for Matt Walbeck. Anaheim basically gave him away for Andy Sheets, at which point Nevin started to thrive in San Diego. Who is at fault for this? Was he rushed? Was Houston bad at teaching kids to develop? Was it bad management? Should we acclaim Bruce Bochy for Nevin's success? Or was it Nevin personally? Was he just not mature enough to handle himself?

    David Harvey
    Grand Rapids, Mich.

Your last guess is the best one. Nevin was one of the more arrogant and self-absorbed college players I’ve ever come across, and I think he needed to be humbled before he could succeed. After playing for the U.S. Olympic team in 1992, he went straight to Triple-A for his pro debut in 1993. He did OK but didn’t dominate, yet he complained bitterly over the next couple of years when the Astros didn’t push Ken Caminiti aside to make room for him.

Nevin’s act eventually wore thin in Houston, and the Astros made him the player to be named for Henneman, who was at the end of the line. Nevin had a pretty big year with the bat in 1996 between Double-A and Detroit, hitting .293-32-88, but that was really his only big year from 1993-98. He hit .235 for the Tigers in 1997 and .228 for the Angels in 1998, at which point he appeared to be one of the biggest busts ever among No. 1 overall picks.

Given his performance and his attitude, I think it’s hard to blame the Astros, Tigers or Angels for giving up on him. On March 29, 1999, he was a career .230 hitter in the majors who had hit for average and not done a whole lot else in the minors. Anaheim desperately needed a shortstop, and San Diego was willing to part with Sheets in a four-player deal.

There’s no villain here, just an astute GM in the Padres’ Kevin Towers, who saw a glimmer of hope. And even then, Nevin was a utilityman and George Arias was San Diego’s starting third baseman until August that season. Nevin started the final two months and made the most of what he probably realized would be his final opportunity.

April 19, 2002

Andy Benes went on the disabled list yesterday, carrying an arthritic right knee and an 0-2, 10.80 record with him. He'll apparently announce his retirement as soon as the Cardinals can collect on a disability settlement for the $10 million they owe him.

Benes will finish his career with a 150-137, 4.05 record in 14 seasons. At first glance, that might seem disappointing for the No. 1 overall choice in the 1988 draft, but that's because people always focus on upside rather than realistic expectations with high draft picks.

Benes had as good a career as any pitcher ever drafted first overall. Benes, Floyd Bannister (Astros, 1976), Tim Belcher (Twins, 1983) and Mike Moore (Mariners, 1981) all performed in similar fashion—take your pick as to who was the best, because they're that close—and would rank in the upper third of all No. 1 picks since the draft began in 1965. If there's going to be a No. 1-drafted pitcher who will push those guys aside, he probably hasn't been drafted yet. Paul Wilson (Mets, 1994) and Kris Benson (Pirates, 1996) have been derailed by injuries, while Matt Anderson (Tigers, 1997) has a 4.74 ERA as a big leaguer.

Give me an error for Tuesday's edition of Ask BA, when I theorized that a knuckleball would flutter more in the mile-high altitude of Coors Field. The lack of spin on a knuckleball allows the pitch to be affected by the air around it, and with thinner air, there's less dancing going on.

    I was wondering about your opinion on Reds outfield prospect Wily Mo Pena. Is he the next Sammy Sosa or is it just all hype? I have read many articles on the kid and they all predict fame for him. Is this kid the real deal, and will he be ready to make the jump to the majors next year like his contract calls for? I have seen him play a few times last year and he impressed me being only 19. Is there a better 20-year-old player in the world and if so, who? Could you also give me your top 10 position players in all the minor leagues?

    Jimmy Carr
    New Boston, Ohio

I harp on this theme from time to time, but Pena is not the next Sammy Sosa. To put that kind of label on a player who hadn't played above low Class A before this year is absurd. Pena has unbelievable raw power and impressive physical tools. But he also hit just .264 and had a 177-33 strikeout-walk ratio at Dayton in 2001 because he has yet to meet a pitch he won't chase. Complicating matters is the big league contract he signed with the Yankees in 1998, which means he'll be out of options next year at age 21. I don't think he'll be ready for the majors at that point, and I don't know how that will turn out. The Reds aren't going to want to expose him to waivers by trying to send him down, but will they really let him waste away on a big league bench? It's not a good situation for his development.

Pena intrigues me, but I wouldn't call him the best 20-year-old player in the world. Using July 1 to determine players' ages, I'd put him behind guys such as Braves shortstop Wilson Betemit, Giants righthander Boof Bonser, Marlins first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Braves righthander Adam Wainwright, Mariners outfielder Chris Snelling, Braves shortstop Kelly Johnson, Padres lefthander Mark Phillips and Devil Rays outfielder Carl Crawford. Pena's ceiling may be higher than any of those guys, but his chances of reaching that level aren't as good.

My top 10 position players in the minors:

1. Joe Mauer, c, Twins
2. Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers
3. Angel Berroa, ss, Royals
4. Brandon Phillips, ss, Expos
5. Joe Borchard, of, White Sox
6. Drew Henson, 3b, Yankees
7. Wilson Betemit, ss, Braves
8. Josh Hamilton, of, Devil Rays
9. Hee Seop Choi, 1b, Cubs
10. Casey Kotchman, 1b, Angels

    Travis Foley had stats just about as good as J.D. Martin in Rookie ball last year and is starting out almost perfect for low Class A Columbus (3-0 0.47), even better than Martin's start (2-1, 2.55). Foley didn't crack Cleveland's Top 30 list in your 2002 Prospect Handbook. What can you tell us about this teenager?

    Elliot Legow
    Youngstown, Ohio

Last spring, Foley hooked up in a classic high school duel with Reds first-round pick Jeremy Sowers (now at Vanderbilt). In a matchup of Louisville high schools, both pitchers fired one-hitters, with Sowers striking out 20 and Foley fanning 16. Fifty scouts were on hand, and the effort boosted Foley's draft stock. Cleveland took him in the fourth round.

At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Foley may not be the most projectable righthander around. But at 19, he already throws in the low 90s and shows some promise with his breaking stuff and changeup. His command wasn't considered a strength, yet he has an 81-19 strikeout-walk ratio in 63 pro innings. Unless he gets hurt, it's a safe bet that he'll make the Top 30 in next year's book.

    Jimmy Journell is obviously the top prospect in the Cardinals organization and one of the best pitching prospects in the minors. When is he due to return? Can you also tell me what the deal is with Chris Narveson? He has yet to pitch this year.

    Chad Wick
    St. Louis

Journell, who had Tommy John surgery while in college, had bone chips removed from his elbow in January. It wasn't considered a major procedure and he should join the Double-A New Haven roster by June. He threw a no-hitter against Bowie in his Double-A debut with the Ravens last September.

Narveson is one of several Cardinals pitching prospects who have needed Tommy John surgery in the last couple of years. After pitching well at two Class A stops in 2001, he was shut down and required the reconstructive elbow operation in August. It's possible he could join a minor league team late in the season, but a return in instructional league is more likely.

    Could you tell us a bit about Wilmington Blue Rocks center fielder David DeJesus? He isn't on the Royals Top 15 Prospect list, but he's certainly having a hot April in high Class A.

    Stewart Deck
    Arlington, Md.

A fourth-round pick in the 2000 draft, DeJesus took a while to start his pro career. In his final game at Rutgers, he broke his right arm and damaged his elbow on a slide into second base. He didn't make his debut until this year, but he's off to a .383 start that includes six doubles, 11 walks, a .517 on-base percentage and .596 slugging percentage in 13 games.

The operative word to describe DeJesus would be "scrappy." He doesn't have overwhelming tools, but then again he doesn't really lack much either. He may not hit for power, but he can be a productive hitter, runner and defender. If he can stay healthy, he's a pretty good bet to make next year's Top 30 in an organization short on position players.

April 16, 2002

My grandfather, Ralph Lovering, died on Saturday. He was 86 and had been ill for a while, so his passing wasn't unexpected. It was until after his death, however, that I realized I probably wouldn't be a baseball fan (or not as much of one) and probably wouldn't be writing for Baseball America if it weren't for him.

When I was a kid, my family would visit my grandparents every summer at their house on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. My grandfather took me to the first major league game I ever saw, in 1978. I remember Fenway Park vividly, and I also remember him telling me not to jump on the bandwagon and boo George Scott, who was in a horrible slump and hitting roughly half his weight at the time. The Indians beat the Red Sox, I think 5-4, as Andre Thornton put a ball in the net above the Green Monster (off Bill Lee?) and Fred Lynn made a key baserunning error. Afterward, I got Scott's autograph, as well as one from umpire Steve Palermo. Lynn pushed me out of his way without comment, and I've never forgiven him, but that and the final score are the only bad memories from the evening.

I also spent countless honors playing a baseball game called Sherco. The players had ratings, and you'd roll dice to see where they hit the ball and plot it on a 28-square by 28-square grid. I loved the game, and my grandfather encouraged me to write up the results. I know the positive reinforcement I got from my stories—he loved it when I called Jose Morales a "pinch-hitter extraordinaire"—helped my love of writing to grow. I'll miss him and I'll never forget him.

    Looking in your crystal ball, who do you see as the top five picks for the 2003 draft? How good can Lastings Milledge be?

    Jim Schubert

While I'm heavily involved with our draft coverage, I'll still defer to Allan Simpson. Here's how he sees the Top 10 for next year at this point:

1. Lastings Milledge, of, HS/St. Petersburg, Fla.
2. Delmon Young, of, HS/Camarillo, Calif.
3. Richie Weeks, of, Southern U.
4. Michael Aubrey, of, Tulane U.
5. James Houser, lhp, HS/Sarasota, Fla.
6. Xavier Paul, of/rhp, HS/Slidell, La.
7. Paul Maholm, lhp, Mississippi State U.
8. Carlos Quentin, of, Stanford U.
9. Case Dahlen, lhp, HS/Palos Verde Estates, Calif.
10. Chad Billingsley, rhp, HS/Defiance, Ohio

And here's his scouting report on Milledge, one of two juniors (along with Young) to make our 2002 High School Preseason All-America Team:

He may have been the top pick if he were in this year's draft. He never has hit below .500 in four high school seasons. He has plus tools: arm strength, speed, bat speed, hitting ability and raw power. He's a natural center fielder.

    I was wondering what the deal is with Jason Dellaero. Is he officially a pitcher now? I saw he was hitting .250 but he also has worked one inning with two strikeouts. I knew he never could hit, but is this move for good or is it just letting him relax a little bit? Also, I saw that Carmen Pignatiello is off to another good start. How likely is it that he will be promoted this year?

    Garrett Guest

The White Sox drafted Dellaero 15th overall in 1997, but he has hit just .214 in five minor league seasons and gone 3-for-33 (.091) in the majors. Last year, he hit a ghastly .178 in Triple-A. All the while, he has showcased what might just be the best infield arm in the minors. He was clocked at 94 mph when he dabbled in pitching at South Florida, but he has been reluctant to try to resuscitate his career by moving to the mound full-time.

The White Sox would like him to make that transition and rave about his pitching potential, but for now they're going to let him stay in Triple-A as a shortstop/pitcher. He's not going to get a lot of playing time at short, however, because Tim Hummel is the regular at that position. The Sox hope Dellaero will take the hint. In his pro pitching debut, he not only showed a live arm but also threw four of the five curveballs he attempted for strikes. Given the White Sox' desperation for bullpen help, you'd think he'd realize that pitching could get him to the majors in a hurry. His bat only will take him to the Northern League.

Pignatiello, a finesse lefty who went 11-4, 3.46 in his first two seasons after the Cubs made him a 20th-round pick in 2000, draws a lot of comparisons to Kirk Rueter. That's a polite way of saying that his stuff doesn't scare anyone, yet he manages to win. He went 2-0, 0.82 in his first two starts at low Class A Lansing this year, but don't be surprised if he spends the entire year in the Midwest League. He's 19 and there's absolutely no need to rush him with all of the pitching talent in the Cubs system.

    In regard to the ongoing problem of pitchers not being able to succeed in Colorado, why don't the Rockies try to bring in some knuckleballers for the starting rotation? Maybe the thin air of Colorado wouldn't affect them as much as it affects pitchers such as Mike Hampton and Darryl Kile.

    Darrin Cohen
    White Plains, N.Y.

That's an interesting idea because everything else the Rockies have tried is failed. Theoretically, the lack of air resistance at mile-high altitude would help a knuckleball dance even more than usual. One problem, however, is the limited supply of pitchers who have one in their repertoire.

For the sake of argument, let's look at how they've performed at Coors Field. I came up with five knuckleballers who have appeared in the majors since Coors opened in 1995: Tom Candiotti, Jared Fernandez, Steve Sparks, Dennis Springer and Tim Wakefield.

The sample size is miniscule, but it certainly doesn't indicate that knuckleballers have had much success in thin air. Fernandez and Springer never have pitched in Coors, while Sparks worked a scoreless inning. Candiotti got hammered, giving up 10 runs (seven earned) in eight innings. Wakefield hasn't been subjected to Coors, but he did make two starts at Mile High Stadium, going 0-2 and allowing 10 runs in 9.2 innings.

Pitchers can't control that there's less air resistance at that altitude. That hurts breaking balls and adds distance to fly balls. There's also a huge amount of outfield territory, which doesn't do any pitcher any favors. STATS, Inc., did a study two years ago that suggested pitchers who have good changeups tended to fare better at Coors than those who don't. That makes sense, because the changeup relies on deception more than movement.

If I were trying to draw up a pitcher for Coors Field, I'd want someone who changes speeds (doesn't rely on movement as much as throwing off hitters' timing) and throws strikes (doesn't hurt himself by putting extra runners on base). I'd also want him to be able to accept the fact that if he gives up five runs in seven innings, that's a quality start in the best hitter's park in baseball history.

    I'm a big Yankees fan and was wondering why high Class A Tampa outfielder Jason Grove didn't make your Yankees Top 10 Prospects list. I had a chance to see him at low Class A Greensboro last year and was impressed with his sweet lefthanded stroke and the pop in his bat. He actually reminds me of a young John Olerud with his swing. He's also a good defensive outfielder with a decent arm, and after a slow start he had a monster second half at Greensboro. Next to Marcus Thames and Juan Rivera, I think he's the next best outfield prospect in the system. Can you give me your thoughts on his chances of making it to the majors?

    John Cioli
    Bronx, N.Y.

While Grove didn't make our Top 10, he did make our Top 30 (at No. 27) in our 2002 Prospect Handbook. He's definitely behind 2001 first-round pick John-Ford Griffin in the Yankees' outfield plans, and Josh Boyd, who did our Top 30, also slotted him after outfielders Yhency Brazoban and John Rodriguez. A third-round pick in 2000, Grove didn't make his pro debut that summer because he broke his foot in a postdraft minicamp.

The Yankees really like the way Grove uses the whole field and drives balls into the gaps. His makeup also draws praise. He's not much of a runner, though, and his arm is going to limit him to left field. Perhaps his biggest drawback right now is his age versus his lack of experience. Even if he tears up the Florida State League, it's hard to say that will be a stunning performance for a 23-year-old in high Class A. In his first 10 games this season, he hit .216 with five doubles.

April 12, 2002

A week after first tackling the subject of the best minor league pitching staffs ever, I now know that my first effort at answering the question (which continues to intrigue me) fell woefully short. My original Top 10 would place just four or five clubs on what would be my current Top 10, and there's more work to be done. But I'm well armed to do it, having fortified my collection of Sporting News Guides and Registers. Even better, Mat Olkin of Baseball Weekly tipped me off to the Professional Baseball Player Database, which is an amazing product that will make the search much easier.

So rather than string this subject out over numerous Ask BAs, I'm going to put the subject on hiatus until I can complete the research. It may take another week or another month, but I will revisit it when I feel like I can provide the closest thing to a definitive answer possible.

I will leave you with this, however: I've found a new No. 2 to slot behind the 1924 Baltimore Orioles. The previous No. 2 was the 1962 Charleston Indians, who had Tommy John, Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert. There's a related staff that's even better. The 1963 Jacksonville Suns, another Cleveland farm club, had John (6-8, 3.53) and Siebert (4-10, 4.83), plus Mike Cuellar (6-7, 3.79) and Sam McDowell (3-6, 3.41). Those four pitchers combined for 754 major league wins, 16 All-Star Game berths, 5 strikeout crowns and one co-Cy Young Award. Of all the staffs I've found thus far, none can match the careers of the third-best (McDowell) or fourth-best (Siebert) pitchers on this one. And if he had spent more time in Jacksonville, Ted Abernathy (2-1, 0.35), who had 148 big league saves, easily would have had the top career of any fifth pitcher. In an interesting sidenote, Jacksonville went just 56-91 and finished last in the 10-team International League despite all that pitching talent.

    My question is in regards to the recent swap of minor league starting pitchers by the Braves and Rangers. Is Andy Pratt a prospect worth watching? Is the player the Rangers received in return, Ben Kozlowski, worth watching? Do you think that either of these players have a chance to be in their teams respective rotations in the next couple of years? Also with the Rangers need for pitching, they must have not been too high on Pratt, right?

    Michael Mayer
    Woodbridge, Va.

This ties into our Ryan Dittfurth question from Tuesday's Ask BA, because Pratt was the player the Rangers designated for assignment after Major League Baseball wouldn't allow them to place Dittfurth on the 60-day disabled list. The reason that MLB invalidated that move was that Texas previously had demoted Dittfurth, who then had to stay in the minors for 10 days. The Rangers tried to recall Dittfurth before the 10 days were up, in order to put him on the 60-day DL and save a roster spot.

Frankly, I'm surprised that Texas made out as well as they did, with other teams knowing they had to trade Pratt or place him on waivers. Kozlowski, 21, repeated the low South Atlantic League last year, but he was only 20 at the time and he went 10-7, 2.48 with an exceptional 147-27 strikeout-walk ratio in 145 innings. His fastball, curveball and changeup are all average or better, as is (obviously) his command. He also has nice size at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, and he still could add more velocity.

Kozlowski was a 12th-round pick in 1999 out of Santa Fe (Calif.) CC, while the 22-year-old Pratt was a ninth-rounder a year earlier out of Chino Valley (Ariz.) High. Pratt spent 2001 in Double-A, going 8-10, 4.61 with a 132-57 K-BB ratio in 168 innings. His stuff isn't as good as Kozlowski's, and Pratt also comes up short physically at 5-foot-11 and a listed 160 pounds. He's the son of Cubs minor league pitching coach Tom Pratt.

Pratt is more advanced of the two lefthanders at this point, but I'd rather have Kozlowski because he has more upside. Both guys are worth watching, but they project as end-of-the-rotation starters or middle men.

    I have a question that relates to some unusual 40-man roster moves. The Dodgers purchased the contracts of minor leaguers Mike Collins, Bill Duplissea and Nick Theodorou on the same day they designated Tom Goodwin and Mike Trombley for assignment. All three of these players were optioned to the minors that day. Later, the Dodgers outrighted all three of the recently purchased players to the minors. I believe my favorite team, the Mariners, did the same thing with infielder Bo Robinson. I don't understand these moves at all. Why would a team go through the trouble of adding a player to its 40-man roster only to remove him days later? Is there something that I'm missing here?

    Bill Lee
    Dayton, Ohio

These were procedural moves. The Dodgers wanted to designate Goodwin and Trombley in order to get them off their 40-man roster, but they could only do that if their roster was full at 40. So they activated three guys who don't figure in their future—there would be no reason to waste an option on a real prospect—then dumped Goodwin and Trombley, then optioned the three minor leaguers out. The Mariners did the same thing with Robinson in order to designate Alex Arias for assignment.

Thanks to former Ask BA maven Josh Boyd for providing this answer as well as the Dittfurth clarification. Whenever we want to run Alan Schwarz through waivers, we run it by Josh to make sure we're doing everything properly.

    I was wondering if Bakersfield (Calif.) JC was the only junior college to have back-to-back first-round draft picks, with Colby Lewis going 38th overall to the Rangers in 1999 and Phil Dumatrait going 22nd overall to the Red Sox in 2000. Have any other junior colleges had third-round or higher picks for three straight years? Bakersfield's Jake Woods was a third-rounders by the Angels in 2001.

    Ryan Schuster
    Bakersfield, Calif.

No junior college can match those two feats. In fact, only three other jucos have even had three players ever drafted in the first three rounds of the regular phase of the June draft: Central Arizona, Miami-Dade South and Rancho Santiago (Calif.). Bakersfield is also the only junior college ever to produce two first-rounders, let alone in back-to-back years.

Since the draft began in 1965, just 76 juco players have been selected in the first three rounds of the regular phase of the June draft. The major reason that number is so low is that from 1966-86, almost all junior college players were subject to the January draft or, if they had been drafted previously, the secondary phase of the June draft. The first draft in 1965 featured just one phase in June and two early juco picks: Mount San Antonio (Calif.) JC first baseman Joe Keough to the Athletics and Los Angeles CC catcher Ken Rudolph to the the Cubs, both in the second round. It was eight more years before another juco player was taken in the June regular draft, and a total of nine were chosen from 1966-86, after which the various drafts were consolidated into one phase in June.

Here's the complete list of 15 junior college first-rounders:

YearPlayer, Pos., SchoolTeam
1978Glenn Franklin, ss, Chipola (Fla.)Expos
1987Kevin Appier, rhp, Antelope Valley (Calif.)Royals
Tyrone Kingwood, of, Imperial Valley (Calif.)Expos
1988Johnny Ard, rhp, Manatee (Fla.)Twins
Dave Proctor, rhp, Allen County (Kan.)Mets
1990Alex Fernandez, rhp, Miami-Dade SouthWhite Sox
1991Jon Farrell, c/of, FloridaPirates
1992Eddie Pearson, 1b, Bishop State (Ala.)White Sox
1993Mark Lukasiewicz, lhp, Brevard (Fla.)Blue Jays
1997Aaron Akin, rhp, Cowley County (Kan.)Marlins
Kyle Kane, rhp, Saddleback (Calif.)White Sox
Aaron Myette, rhp, Central ArizonaWhite Sox
1999Colby Lewis, rhp, Bakersfield (Calif.)Rangers
2000Phil Dumatrait, lhp, Bakersfield (Calif.)Red Sox
Robert Stiehl, rhp, El Camino (Calif.)Astros

April 9, 2002

There's more news on the greatest-minor-league-pitching-staffs front, as I've continued with some more research and received several emails. Baseball Weekly's Mat Olkin, who was a huge help putting together the list that ran on Friday, discovered that the 1965 Arkansas Travelers had Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins (8-6, 2.95), Rick Wise (8-16, 4.45) and Grant Jackson (9-11, 3.95). The leading winner on the team, probably through sheer will, was Dallas Green (12-7, 3.66), who had a modest major league career before going on to bigger things. Another big leaguer, John Boozer (9-13, 3.97), also was part of a 67-79 club that had just the 10th-best record in the 12-team Pacific Coast League. I'd rank that staff as the third best of all time, behind the 1924 Baltimore Orioles and 1962 Charleston Indians.

I found the 1972 Albuquerque Dukes, who won the Pacific Coast League championship with a 92-56 record. Members of that staff included Charlie Hough (14-5, 2.38), Rick Rhoden (7-1, 3.83), Geoff Zahn (10-1, 4.71) and Doug Rau (14-3, 3.51). I'd put that foursome right behind the 1965 Travelers.

Another discovery I made was the 1972 Wichita Aeros, who won the American Association pennant. Their big three was Rick Reuschel (9-2, 1.33), Larry Gura (11-4, 3.65) and Bill Bonham (10-4, 3.54). Reuschel and Gura always have been underrated, and I'd slide them behind the 1980 Pawtucket Red Sox discussed on Friday.

Two more finds—Can you tell that this has been consuming too much of my time?— were the 1983 Indianapolis Indians and the 1987 Syracuse Chiefs. Indianapolis boasted three future big league closers in John Franco (6-10, 4.85), Greg Harris (9-12, 4.14) and Jeff Russell (5-5, 3.55). Syracuse had David Wells (4-6, 3.87), Todd Stottlemyre (11-13, 4.44), Duane Ward (2-2, 3.89, 14 saves) and Luis Aquino (6-7, 4.78). I'd put them both ahead of the 1957 San Diego Padres, who occupied the 10th spot on this list on Friday.

Jeff Cohen of Toledo remembered the 1968 Mud Hens, who had Mike Marshall (15-9, 2.94), Dick Drago (15-8, 3.36) and Jim Rooker (14-8, 2.61). Dick Radatz (6-7, 2.78) also was on hand, though his big league career was all but over. Not counting Radatz, because we're focusing on the futures of these pitchers, I'd put this group between the 1988 Phoenix Firebirds and the 1941 Houston Buffaloes discussed last time.

Tacoma Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto nominated the 1961 Tacoma Giants staff led by Gaylord Perry (16-10, 2.55) and Eddie Fisher (9-5, 3.09). That duo returned in 1962 as well—I had considered that club—but never had the third quality big leaguer that would have put them on the list. Future big leaguers Ron Herbel and Jim Duffalo were on both teams, and Dom Zanni was on the 1961 club, but none meet that standard.

So at this point, here's what the current Top 15 looks like (each club's top three big leaguers are in parentheses):

1. 1924 Baltimore Orioles (Grove, Thomas, Earnshaw)
2. 1962 Charleston Indians (John, Tiant, Siebert)
3. 1965 Arkansas Travelers (Jenkins, Wise, Jackson)
4. 1972 Albuquerque Dukes (Hough, Rhoden, Zahn)
5. 1941 Columbus Redbirds (Dickson, Brecheen, Roe)
6. 1939 Houston Buffaloes (Dickson, Brecheen, Wilks)
7. 1942 Columbus Redbirds (Brecheen, Roe, Wilks)
8. 1980 Pawtucket Red Sox (Hurst, Tudor, Ojeda)
9. 1972 Wichita Aeros (Reuschel, Gura, Bonham)
10. 1979 Tidewater Tides (Reardon, Orosco, Scott)
11. 1982 Albuquerque Dukes (Hershiser, Fernandez, Power)
12. 1975 Midland Cubs (Sutter, Krukow, Lamp)
13. 1983 Indianapolis Indians (Franco, Harris, Russell)
14. 1987 Syracuse Chiefs (Wells, Stottlemyre, Ward)
15. 1957 San Diego Padres (Grant, Bell, Aguirre)

Tommy John and Luis Tiant of the 1962 Charleston club both have a chance at Cooperstown, and I noted that I hadn't found a team with two Hall of Fame pitchers on it. Mat Olkin again came through, finding the 1917 Memphis Chickasaws, who had both Waite Hoyt and Dazzy Vance. But the only other big leaguer on the club was obscure Alex McColl, so that was more of a duo than a staff effort and Memphis doesn't make the list.

Joe Hamilton (Shoreline, Wash.) and Jay Grusznski (Denmark, Wis.) both tabbed the 1998 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers as a staff to watch. I agree, if Ryan Anderson and Gil Meche can return to full health. The Rattlers also had Joel Pineiro and prospects Lesli Brea, Justin Kaye and Allan Simpson. Jay, who obviously makes it out to a lot of Midwest League games, also cited the mound corps from 2000 (led by Rafael Soriano, Matt Thornton, Craig Anderson, J.J. Putz and Cha Seung Baek) and possibly 2001 (Clint Nageotte, Rett Johnson, Aaron Taylor, Derrick Van Dusen).

BA columnist Tracy Ringolsby noted the Rockies could have a Double-A staff that will rival the Padres' Mobile contingent. Carolina has Aaron Cook, Ryan Kibler, Jason Young and Cory Vance already, and the Mudcats could add Chin-Hui Tsao once he's healthy. Tim Stuart (San Clemente, Calif.) likes what the Cubs have in Double-A. He wonders whether Mark Prior will stay in West Tenn very long, as do I. If he stays with the Diamond Jaxx a while, he could be on hand for when Ben Christensen, Steve Smyth and Frank Beltran come off the disabled list.

I can't stop myself from looking into more possibilities, and I'll report any more findings in future Ask BAs. Keep the emails coming.

    The league disallowed the Rangers' placement of righthander Ryan Dittfurth on the 60-day disabled list at the end of spring training. The suggestion was that it didn't smell right that Texas created two extra spots on the 40-man roster by placing two minor leaguers on the 60-day DL, with righthander Jovanny Cedeno the other. Three questions: Is there actually a rule against placing two minor leaguers on the 60-day DL? Haven't the Braves been parking two or three farm players on their 60-day DL for years now? Is Major League Baseball just out to get Texas (notwithstanding its failure to ultimately slap the club after investigating the Grady Fuson and John Hart hirings and the Dan Miceli signing)? It sure seems that way.

    Jamey Newberg

As we've noted before, Jamey runs the excellent Newberg Report, a website devoted to the Rangers. Hence the tone of his questions.

There's no rule against putting multiple minor leaguers on the 60-day disabled list. As Jamey alluded to, last year at this time Atlanta had George Lombard, Kevin McGlinchy, Scott Sobkowiak and Brad Voyles (plus big leaguer Eddie Perez) on the 60-day DL. All of those players were legitimately hurt, too, as the four farmhands combined to appear in just 63 games in 2001. I looked back a few years and couldn't find any evidence that this was an annual practice for the Braves.

If MLB wanted to make an example of the Rangers, whose spending habits don't endear them to Bud Selig, they've had plenty of opportunity. But Texas got away with a fine after its hirings of Fuson and Hart were challenged. The Rangers didn't lose a draft pick after signing Miceli to a minor league contract and reportedly "promising" him a big league job, thus circumventing the free-agent compensation process. I can only guess that MLB had reason to believe that Texas was trying to pull something with Dittfurth, thus voiding the move and leading the Rangers to create roster space by designating lefthander Andy Pratt for assignment.

    Any word on Chris Snelling's thumb injury, and when and where he'll begin the 2002 season? What about updates on Tony Blanco?

    Tim Mavor
    Waldorf, Md.

Snelling fractured his right thumb making a diving play in big league camp in mid-March. He's so aggressive that he keeps getting hurt, having broken his hand and injuring his wrist after diving into a wall in 2000 and winning the high Class A California League batting title while playing with a stress fracture in his right ankle last year. He's able to work out and do everything but hit while the thumb heals, so he should be ready to play at Double-A San Antonio by the end of the month.

Blanco's left hand was broken when he was hit by a pitch during the final week of spring training. He had injury trouble last year as well, as he was bothered by bursitis in his right shoulder before having arthroscopic surgery in August. Limited to DH for much of the year, he hit .265-17-69 at low Class A Augusta. He should be able to play at high Class A Sarasota by mid-May.

    I'm curious about a Pirates prospect drafted last year in the 15th round, Jeff Miller. He's a local kid from my area. He started at Seton Hall then transferred to New Orleans, where I think he played two years as an outfielder/pitcher. He spent last season in the short-season New York-Penn League, putting up dazzling numbers and ranking among the league leaders in saves. I don't know if he's too obscure a player, but where's he expected to play this season and how do his chances stack up for making the bigs?

    Mark Hrywna
    Springfield, N.J.

It's too early to say the 22-year-old Miller is a can't-miss prospect, but he opened Pittsburgh's eyes with his performance last year. He can reach 94 mph with his fastball, and has movement to go with his velocity. His second-best pitch is a slider that just needs more consistency. That two-pitch repertoire could be his ticket to the major league bullpen in a few years. He's starting this year at low Class A Hickory, where he has picked up where he left off last season. In his first two outings, Miller retired all five batters he faced while earning a victory and a save. I bet he moves up to high Class A Lynchburg by midseason.

    I read the Giants were turning pitcher Justin Knoedler back into a catcher. Why? He struck out 38 and walked nine in 29 innings, with an ERA of 1.26 in his first go-round in the short-season Northwest League. Were his batting-practice sessions so impressive, a switch was a given? Is it a physical thing? Were there too many arms blocking him?

    Floyd Thursby
    Ashland, Ore.

Knoedler impressed the Giants with the sheer velocity on his fastball after he signed last summer, pitching at 93-96 mph. But the organization is stacked up with talent on the mound and lacks much behind the plate. He was very raw as a pitcher and would have needed significant time to develop secondary pitches to back up his fastball.

Former catching prospects Giuseppe Chiaramonte and Sammy Serrano retired this spring because of injuries, creating a need for backstops. Knoedler, 21, was more of a catcher in college, hitting .283-9-25 for Miami (Ohio) in 2001 while compiling a 7.02 ERA in 14 pitching appearances. San Francisco drafted him in the fifth round last June, one round before the Tigers drafted his twin brother Jason, an outfielder.

Justin has gone 4-for-16 in his first four games this year for low Class A Hagerstown. Defensively, he has thrown out two of seven basestealers.

April 5, 2002

Barry Bonds' swing looks just as grooved as it did at the end of 2001. Every time he turns the bat loose, I expect a home run. If he stays healthy, he'll produce either baseball's first 80-homer season or first 200-walk season, and possibly both.

While everyone acknowledges Bonds' greatness, I don't think that many people realize how great he is. He still doesn't make my all-time outfield (that's Ted Williams in left, Willie Mays in center and Babe Ruth in right), but he's making it pretty tough to ignore him. If I can just go with three outfielders, regardless of position, Bonds will overtake Mays by the time he's done.

Today is an Ask BA first, as we'll handle just one question. That's because it's a tremendous question, and requires a lengthy response.

    What is your assessment of the 2002 Mobile BayBears pitching staff? Does it have the opportunity to be the best pitching staff ever assembled in minor league history? The pitching staff will have not only the best prospects in the Padres organization, but in the entire major leagues as well. If they aren't considered the best ever, whom could they be compared to?

    Gerard Kwilecki
    Valdosta, Ga.

Whoa there, Gerard. Don't go canonizing the BayBears just yet. But it is an exciting staff, led by starters Eric Cyr, Ben Howard, Jake Peavy and Dennis Tankersley. Mobile also has three relievers who are prospects and were signed by San Diego out of independent leagues: Matt Hampton, Andy Shibilo and J.J. Trujillo. Most of these guys were at Lake Elsinore last year, when the Storm won the high Class A California League co-championship and was named BA's Minor League Team of the Year. A pair of promising 20-year-old lefties, Mark Phillips and Oliver Perez, could be promoted from the Cal League at some point this season.

I assume that Gerard wonders which minor league pitching staff produced the best future major league talent, rather than the best one-season minor league performance. I love the question but don't have all the resources to provide a definitive answer. But I did contact historians Bill Weiss and Ray Nemec and thumbed through the new Bill James Historical Abstract. I pored through some old Sporting News Guides and Registers, got former BA webmaster and Ask BA creator James Bailey to do the same (his collection goes much further back than mine), and also enlisted similar help from Baseball Weekly's Mat Olkin and STATS, Inc.'s Chuck Miller and Tony Nistler. I also spent considerable time surfing the web.

I tried to find teams that had three or more significant big leaguers who each made at least 10 starts or spent roughly half a year with the same minor league club. I didn't count the 1976 Rochester Red Wings for instance, because Mike Flanagan made just seven starts. Dennis Martinez was on that club all season, while Scott McGregor arrived at midseason.

1. 1924 Baltimore Orioles. The Baltimore Orioles won seven consecutive International League championship from 1919-25 and are virtually everyone's choice for the best minor league team ever. Babe Ruth could have been part of this club had Jack Dunn not sold him to the Red Sox when the cost of doing business rose dramatically when the Federal League was created in 1914. When the Federal League died, Dunn was content to keep his best players rather than sell them to major league clubs. As a result, Lefty Grove spent 1920-24 with the Orioles, going 109-36 before the Philadelphia Athletics purchased him for a record $106,000. Baltimore went 117-48 in 1924, armed with arguably the best pitcher ever in Grove (26-6, 3.01), plus Tommy Thomas (16-11, 4.08) and George Earnshaw (7-0, 3.38), who each won more than 100 games in the majors. The Orioles also had Jack Ogden (19-6, 3.63), whom Bill James says was generally accepted as the minors' best pitcher in the 1920s. He won 213 games in the minors and his lifetime .674 winning percentage is a record, while Rube Parnham (6-5, 4.84), another Baltimore mainstay, won 167 at that level. Both had brief major league careers and no doubt could have done more there had they gotten the opportunity. I know the focus of this is on future major league performance, but the minors of this era were quite dissimilar to the minors of ours. It wasn't a natural progression for a top prospect to head swiftly to the majors, and there's little doubt that Ogden and Parnham could have been successful big leaguers. It's my column, so I'm crediting the 1924 Orioles with Ogden and Parnham as well.

2. 1962 Charleston Indians. This staff didn't run as deep as the 1924 Orioles, but Charleston's big three was bigger, even without a Lefty Grove. Both Tommy John (6-8, 3.87) and Luis Tiant (7-8, 3.63) can make a case for Cooperstown, which would make this the only team I could find with two Hall of Famers. Sonny Siebert (15-8, 2.91) was a two-time all-star with 140 career wins in the majors. This offense must have been terrible, because Charleston finished fifth in the Eastern League with a 67-73 record.

3. 1941 Columbus Redbirds. That Branch Rickey sure knew how to build a farm system. Columbus won the American Association pennant as well as the Little World Series. Murry Dickson (21-11, 3.30), Harry Brecheen (16-6, 3.64) and Preacher Roe (11-9, 3.97) all had lengthy careers that included trips to the All-Star Game and World Series. That same year, the Cardinals' Texas League affiliate in Houston had three pitchers who all contributed to St. Louis' run of success in the 1940s: Howie Pollet (20-3, 1.16), Al Brazle (11-5, 3.35) and Ted Wilks (20-10, 2.50). That club didn't make this list, but it was led in wins by Fred Martin (23-6, 1.54), who reached the majors but is better remember for jumping to the Mexican League and for being the pitching coach who taught Bruce Sutter how to throw a splitter.

4. 1939 Houston Buffaloes. This staff had some of the names just discussed: Dickson (22-15, 3.25), Brecheen (18-7, 2.51) and Wilks (14-15, 2.60), plus 1942 World Series hero Ernie White (15-7, 2.62) and Howie Krist (5-2, 3.58). Krist's .771 winning percentage in the majors is the highest for any modern player who can match or exceed his 48 decisions (37-11). If Pollet (1-1, 4.67) had been around for more than 27 innings, I would have bumped this staff up a notch.

5. 1942 Columbus Redbirds. The Cardinals were so deep in the majors—they won their first of three straight National League pennants and beat the Yankees in the World Series in 1942—that Brecheen (19-10, 2.09) and Roe (6-11, 3.02) didn't get promotions from Columbus. Wilks (12-9, 2.41) joined them on the Redbirds, as did future three-time all-star Red Munger (16-13, 3.52). Ken Burkhart (3-5, 3.60) won 18 games as a rookie in 1945, though his career fizzled when the veterans returned from World War II. Despite all this pitching, Columbus finished only third in the American Association regular season, though it did win the playoffs and another Little World Series.

6. 1980 Pawtucket Red Sox. Bruce Hurst (8-6, 3.94), John Tudor (4-5, 3.65) and Bobby Ojeda (6-7, 3.22) gave Pawtucket three solid lefthanders, and Mike Smithson (5-9, 2.91) would make 204 big league starts. Yet despite that foursome and hitters such as Wade Boggs and Rich Gedman, the Pawsox went 62-77 and finished just four games out of last place.

7. 1979 Tidewater Tides. Tidewater had three pitchers who went on to enjoy tremendous success at the next level. Jeff Reardon (5-2, 2.09) set the career saves record, which since has been broken. Jesse Orosco (4-4, 3.89) has pitched in more big league games than anyone and continues to add to his mark as he approaches 45. Once he learned how to scuff the ball, Mike Scott (8-4, 3.18) won the 1986 National League Cy Young Award. Thee trio combined for nine All-Star Game appearances.

8. 1982 Albuquerque Dukes. Had John Franco (1-2, 7.24) and Alejandro Pena (1-1, 5.34) made more than cameos in Albuquerque, this staff could have moved up well up this list. As it was, the Dukes still had Orel Hershiser (9-6, 3.71), Sid Fernandez (6-5, 5.42) and Ted Power (5-4, 5.18). Joe Beckwith (5-6, 6.68) and Brian Holton (12-8, 5.13) became effective big league relievers.

9. 1975 Midland Cubs. Sutter (5-7, 2.15) deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. He was joined at Midland by longtime major leaguers Mike Krukow (13-6, 3.41), Dennis Lamp (7-5, 3.33) and Donnie Moore (14-8, 2.97). The same foursome pitched for the 1974 Key West Conchs, though Lamp made only eight starts for that club. Key West finished a dreadful 37-94, including a dreadful 19-62 when one of these four guys didn't get the decision.

10. 1957 San Diego Padres. Mudcat Grant (18-7, 2.32) and Gary "Ding Dong" Bell (1-5, 4.95) had colorful nicknames as well as memorable talent. Both made multiple All-Star Game appearances. Hank Aguirre (6-13, 3.75), also earned all-star recognition during a 16-year big league career. Bill Dailey (3-6, 3.78) ranked third in the American League with 21 saves in 1963.

That's at least one representative for every decade from the 1920s to the 1980s. If John Burkett can put together another couple of solid seasons, that might be enough to boost the 1988 Phoenix Firebirds into the Top 10. That staff also included Terry Mulholland, Jeff Brantley, Dennis Cook, Trevor Wilson and Roger Mason.

The three best candidates for the 1990s at this point appear to be the 1990 Knoxville Blue Jays (Pat Hentgen, Juan Guzman, Woody Williams; Mike Timlin was there too but didn't pitch enough to qualify), the 1993 Tucson Toros (Shane Reynolds, Todd Jones, Dave Veres, Donne Wall, Jeff Juden) and the 1995 San Jose Giants (Keith Foulke, Shawn Estes, Bobby Howry; Russ Ortiz was on hand for five starts but that's not enough to be counted).

A 2000s club to watch is last year's Round Rock Express, which featured Tim Redding, Carlos Hernandez and Brad Lidge (limited to five starts by a broken forearm and elbow surgery, but on the roster all year long). All could be big winners in the majors if Lidge can stay healthy. Round Rock also had Ryan Jamison, Greg Miller, Wilfredo Rodriguez and Tom Shearn, who bear watching.

If anyone has more candidates and/or corrections for this list, please email Ask BA.

April 2, 2002

Did anyone expect Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez to combine to each surrender eight runs on Opening Day? Pedro had allowed more than seven runs in a game just once in his career, when he gave up nine to the Marlins on July 18, 1999. He celebrated by immediately going on the disabled list, which isn't a good sign for Red Sox fans. This isn't exactly a news flash, but if he isn't healthy or doesn't snap out of his late-spring-training doldrums, Boston has no shot at the playoffs.

I could only find Clemens' daily logs going back to 1987, the fourth year of his career. Still I was surprised that he gets torched pretty badly once a year. In the 15 seasons from 1987-2001, he gave up at least eight runs in a game 10 times, including a high of nine four times. I guess it's good for the Yankees that Clemens got his shellacking out of the way quickly, though he probably won't try to barehand another sharp comeback for a while.

At least Randy Johnson keeps steaming ahead, tossing an Opening Day shutout against the Padres. His eight strikeouts don't give him a big jump on challenging Nolan Ryan's single-season strikeout record again. But if Johnson and Curt Schilling can pitch like they did in 2001, they're going to cover for an awful lot of holes in Arizona and give the Diamondbacks a chance to repeat.

    My question is regarding first-base prospects in the 2002 draft. I don't hear too much about first base this year. I hear Larry Broadway from Duke and not much else. Is first base a hard position to scout? Presuming that Broadway would be the first one picked, most likely in the middle of the first round, are there any high school first basemen to watch or any college sleepers that are first- or second-round caliber? Thanks!

    Melissa Davis
    Lake Ridge, Va.

First base might be the easiest position of all to scout. The basic requirement is that the player be able to mash. If he can run a little, play some decent defense and make the occasional good throw, fine. But a player will have to be able to provide significant offense if he's going to play first base in the major leagues. Jim Thome is a baseclogger who doesn't do much with the glove, but the Indians are thrilled to have him.

Not so fast on Broadway, though. As we'll report in our latest issue in our update on college prospects, which subscribers should be receiving already, he probably has fallen out of the first round at this point because he got off to a slow start offensively. He's now up to .352 with five homers in 108 at-bats, but his homers have come against Princeton (two), Virginia and Brown (two)—not exactly the toughest competition. He just hasn't looked nearly as good as he did when he had his coming-out party in the Cape Cod League last summer. Broadway still is the best college first-base prospect available, as the position has been depleted with Rutgers' Val Majewski and Ohio State's Nick Swisher (Steve's son) moving to the outfield. The next-best first baseman is Michael Johnson of No. 1 Clemson, who looks like a third-rounder right now. Johnson has really blossomed this year, batting .416-12-35 in 89 at-bats. He's getting close to matching his totals from his entire sophomore year, when he hit .321-18-54. He's also athletic enough that he might be tried as an outfielder when he turns pro.

We're working on updating our high school prospect list this week and next. Prince Fielder (Melbourne, Fla.), who has his father Cecil's light-tower power as well as his body—Prince already carries 260 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame—is the best prep first baseman available. He'd probably go in the second or third round if the draft were held this week. Others to watch include Corey Shafer (Choctaw, Okla.) and Fernando Pacheco (San Ysidro, Calif.).

    What are the rules for the trading of recently drafted players? One of my friends was discussing the possibility of the Rangers trading Mark Teixeira (if healthy) this season for a playoff run, and I was uncertain if he's allowed to be traded. Could you explain this?

    Jason Hoagland
    Columbus, Ohio

No player can be traded until a year after he signs his first pro contract, so the chances that Teixeira would leave Texas are that much more unlikely. He signed a four-year major league deal worth a guaranteed $9.5 million, including a $4.5 million bonus, last Aug. 22. Rangers owner Tom Hicks apparently wants to start winning immediately, but I can't imagine they'd trade Teixeira unless they were going to get a major pitcher in return.

The rule was instituted after the 1985 draft. The Expos drafted Oklahoma State outfielder Pete Incaviglia, the NCAA's single-season and career home run leader, with the eighth overall pick. But Incavigilia wanted to play in a warmer climate and refused to sign with Montreal, claiming he'd enter the January 1986 draft. Faced with the prospect of losing him and getting nothing in return, the Expos signed him on Nov. 2, 1986 and immediately sent him to the Rangers in a prearranged deal for journeymen Jim Anderson and Bob Sebra. Shortly thereafter, Major League Baseball put the current rule in place, though it inexplicably did nothing when the Indians traded 1990 first-round pick Tim Costo to the Reds for Reggie Jefferson on June 14, 1991, slightly less than a year after Costo had signed.

Incidentally, there's still no update on the status of Teixeira's injured elbow. After banging his left arm when he ran into a wall while chasing a foul pop during an exhibition game, he has had his forearm and elbow immobilized. He'll be out until at least mid-May, and if he doesn't start healing more rapidly, he may face season-ending surgery.

    Perhaps I'm a little biased being a Phillies fan, but don't you think there a lot of similarities between the New York Mets and the Washington Redskins of two years ago? Both teams went out and signed old, overpaid, has-been stars. I admit, the Mets stole Roberto Alomar from the Indians, but all the other players are big question marks. If I remember, all the prognosticators got burned by picking the Redskins high. But I guess those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

    Will Clark

I assume Will is somewhat chagrined that our correspondents picked the Mets to finish ahead of the Phillies in our National League preview. I don't disagree with them, because Philadelphia has too many holes and not a whole lot of depth, though the emergence of Vicente Padilla looks promising.

But I don't disagree with Will, either, in that there has been a general clamoring about how great the Mets look after their offseason makeover. While Steve Phillips did upgrade his offense, people are overestimating the state of the improvement. Let's take a quick look at their new regulars and whom they replaced.

First Base: Mo Vaughn is better than Todd Zeile, no question. But he's not gong to put up one of those .300-40-120 seasons he regularly produced in Boston. Shea Stadium isn't Fenway Park, and Vaughn barely slugged .500 in his two healthy years in Anaheim before missing all of 2001. He's 34 and his body is heading south rapidly. Vaughn might hit .265 with 25 homers, and he also might be one of the bigger disappointments this year.

Second Base: Roberto Alomar essentially replaces Robin Ventura, whose spot at third has been claimed by Edgardo Alfonzo. The Indians looked to dump salary and got rid of a guy who could have been named American League MVP last year. New York didn't give up much that it will miss in the near future. Obviously, a great move.

Left Field: Roger Cedeno steals a lot of bases, but this isn't fantasy baseball. Offensively, he's not nearly as good as Benny Agbayani and only slightly better than Joe McEwing, the Mets' two primarly left fielders last year. And Cedeno is worse than almost every NL left fielder.

Right Field: Jeromy Burnitz is better than Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who saw duty at all three outfield spots for New York in 2001. He draws walks and hits for power, two things the Mets didn't do enough of last year. But there's also a lot of right-field talent in the NL. Burnitz is not in the class of Bobby Abreu, J.D. Drew, Shawn Green, Vladimir Guerrero, Richard Hidalgo, Ryan Klesko, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa or Larry Walker. So Burnitz ranks in the bottom half of the league's right fielders.

Add to this that Rey Ordonez and Jay Payton will be eating outs on a regular basis, and that the rotation was downgraded at least slightly with the departures of Kevin Appier and Glendon Rusch. New York isn't going to overwhelm anyone this year. The Mets scored just 642 runs last year, 75 worse than the average NL club. Even if they add 100 runs this year, which obviously would be a significant jump, they're not going to have one of the best offenses in the league.

    Who would typically command a bigger signing bonus, a high school player or college junior?

    Dan Jensen
    Claremore, Okla.

It's not so much where a player comes from that matters. It comes down to when he's drafted and how much talent he has.

A high school player can opt to go to college and not sign, but unless he goes to a junior college he generally won't be eligible to be drafted again for another three years. So while he has leverage, if he wants to sign it's going to be difficult to wait for three more years. A college junior won't have as much bargaining power if he returns for his senior year, because then he has to sign when he's drafted or go the independent league route. However, big league clubs rarely play hardball with juniors, and collegians also have an advantage over high schoolers because there's so much less projection involved.

Of the top 20 bonuses in draft history (not counting the 1996 loophole free agents), 11 went to college juniors and eight to high school players. The other went to J.D. Drew, who didn't sign with the Phillies as a college junior in 1997. He signed with the independent Northern League's St. Paul Saints before the Cardinals landed him as a first-round pick in 1998.

The 10 highest bonuses in the 2001 draft went to seven college juniors and three high schoolers. But that really reflected more the composition of the early first round, as those bonuses went to the first 10 players selected, no doubt giving Sandy Alderson warm and fuzzy thoughts. In 2000, the year of the prearranged deal, the 11 biggest bonuses (there was a tie for 10th place) went to six college juniors and five prep players.

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