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By Jim Callis

June 28, 2002

Remember Mark Teixeira? Well, of course you do. While injuries allowed the 2002 draft's other $10 million man to be totally eclipsed by Mark Prior, first in college last year and in pro ball this season, Teixeira finally has recovered from those ankle and arm woes. Now he's showing why the Rangers bypassed pitching to take him last year and why scouts considered him the best college hitter since Pat Burrell.

In his first 23 games as a pro, Teixeira has hit .319-6-22 in the high Class A Florida State League, where the ballparks are notoriously pitcher-friendly. His on-base (.380) and slugging (.593) percentages are more than healthy. I'll bet he spends the second half of 2002 punishing Double-A pitchers and takes over at first base in Texas and eases Rafael Palmeiro into a DH role shortly after the all-star break next year.

    Some reports indicate Scott Kazmir is heading to the University of Texas instead of signing with the Mets. What happened? Did the Mets get duped? Mets fans were so happy that Kazmir fell to the 15th pick in the draft. Did the other teams know something that the Mets didn't, or was this just mere coincidence? If Kazmir doesn't sign, do the Mets end up with the worst draft class of any team? This would be very disappointing, considering the strong draft class they had last year.

    Dylan Pride
    Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Yes, Major League Baseball's own website quoted Kazmir this week as saying, "Texas' winning this weekend has made it real difficult That sways my decision a lot. I have to make my decision soon, too. I want to know where I'm going to be. Augie is pretty persuasive, though.".

The Longhorns may have won the College World Series and Texas coach Augie Garrido is quite persuasive, but color me cynical. This is just part of the song and dance it will take for the Mets to go above the MLB-recommended bonus for the 15th draft slot, which is roughly $1.78 million.

Kazmir, who had arguably the best pure arm in the draft, lasted as long as he did because teams believed he wanted in the neighborhood of $3.5 million. Clubs that deviate from suggested slot money are going to incur the wrath of MLB, so they usually try to lessen that wrath by waiting until the end of the summer. By then, most draftees are signed and the team's perceived overgenerosity theoretically should have less of an effect on the overall market.

If Kazmir doesn't sign, he's more likely to attend a junior college like Blinn (Texas) rather than make himself ineligible for the draft until 2005 by joining the Longhorns, no matter how enticing he says that might be. Three years from now, it's very possible that big league owners and players will have agreed to institute an NBA-style system where the bonuses for each draft slot are specifically mandated, leaving no room for negotiation. Kazmir might get as much or more money now when he has leverage.

If New York doesn't sign Kazmir, it could make a case for having the worst draft because it also lacked second- and third-round picks. I haven't talked to either side recently, but I still think the Mets are going to give Kazmir $3 million or thereabouts in late August.

    Paul Byrd won his 10th game of the season Thursday for the Royals, beating the Tigers 5-2. That made him 10-5 on a team with a 29-46 record. If he can keep up that kind of personal wins/team wins ratio for the rest of the year, would it be the best ever? I don't think I've ever seen anything even close to a starter earning one third of his team's total wins.

    Adam Korfhage

While Byrd's performance in light of his team has been phenomenal, it's not unprecedented. In the first couple of decades in the 1900s, pitchers posted a third of their club's victories 42 times. It has happened just 15 times since the lively ball was introduced in 1920, and not since 1972.

That year Steve Carlton won the National League Cy Young Award and pitching triple crown (27-10, 1.97 with 310 strikeouts) despite pitching for a woeful Phillies team that finished 59-97 (or 32-87 when Carlton didn't get a decision). His 45.8 percent share of Philadelphia's wins is easily the record for baseball's modern era. Also that year, Gaylord Perry won the American League Cy Young after going 24-16, 1.92 for a 72-84 Indians club.

Here are the nine pitchers who have collected 40 percent of their team's wins, a list that includes six Hall of Famers:

PitcherTeamW/Team WPct.
Steve Carlton1972 Phi27/59.458
Ed Walsh1908 ChA40/88.455
Jack Chesbro1904 NYA41/92.446
Noodles Hahn1901 Cin22/52.423
Cy Young1901 BosA33/79.418
Joe Bush1916 PhiA15/36.417
Cy Young1902 BosA32/77.416
Ed Rommel1922 PhiA27/65.415
Red Faber1921 ChA25/62.403
Walter Johnson1913 Was36/90.400

    I was wondering about Cody Ross. I've heard a bit about him and he's having a nice power year at Double-A Erie. What do you think of him?

    James Goodwin
    Sterling Heights, Mich.

Ross, 21, was a fourth-round pick out of Carlsbad (N.M.) High in 1999. Some scouts preferred him as a lefthanded pitcher, but the Tigers have made the right call in keeping him in the outfielder. He came on in the second half of 2001 in the FSL, finishing the season with .276-15-80 totals as well as 28 stolen bases in 127 games.

Moving to a more friendly hitting environment at Double-A Erie this year, Ross has hit .288-16-58 with 12 steals in his first 73 games. He's definitely a guy to keep an eye on, but he may be more of a fourth outfielder than a big league regular. Erie's Jerry Uht Park has inflated his batting average—Ross is hitting .326 at home and .252 on the road—and he's doesn't have a tool that will carry him like big-time power or blazing speed. He's young and known for his hustle, and that at least should earn him a shot with the Tigers in the next couple of years.

June 25, 2002

Unless the potential work stoppage scares off clubs, we should see several trades in the next six weeks. Ask BA always gets a lot of questions on those deals, but for the most part I handle that analysis at the Trade Central area of our website. I got a few queries about Boston's Alan Embree trade, so head over there to check out our take on that.

Please remember that you need to include your full name and hometown if you want your Ask BA question considered. I get several that don't have complete information, and they often get discarded immediately.

    With the recent death of Cardinals starter Darryl Kile, I was wondering what the scouting reports were on him when he was coming up through the minors?

    C.J. Keller
    Prattville, Ala.

Kile made our first two Top 100 Prospects lists, ranking 11th in 1990 and 34th in 1991. Here are the scouting reports from the National League Top 10 Prospects issues in those years:

(No. 2 on Astros, behind OF Eric Anthony)

Another Southern California find for the Astros, Kile was a follow pick in 1987 who signed for a $100,000 bonus before the 1988 draft. A year after he began his pro career in the Gulf Coast League, Kile had advanced to Triple-A Tucson. If the Astros had an immediate opening in the rotation, Kile would be a candidate. Instead, he'll take his 90-mph fastball to Tucson and wait for a chance.

(No. 3 on Astros, behind SS Andujar Cedeno and 3B Jeff Bagwell)

Kile was so obsessed with making the big league rotation a year ago as a nonroster pitcher that he got ready too soon, overdid it and strained his arm. He had to start the season at Triple-A Tucson on the disabled list. It ended up being a lost year.

Though the Astros have only three set starters for 1991, the club will be careful not to give Kile any grand notions in spring training. They'd prefer he start the year in Tucson.

Kile, a 6-foot-5 righthander, has outstanding day-to-day stuff and doesn't need to nibble as he did last year. He has an 88-90 mph fastball, which he can cut or run inside. His best pitch was a slider, but the Astros took that out of his repertoire because they felt it put too much strain on his elbow.

    Has Brandon Larson re-established himself as a legitimate prospect? Or does he look more like a classic late-blooming 4-A player doomed to major league irrelevance by continuing poor plate discipline? Also, I have heard him mentioned in trade talks with teams lacking a strong third baseman—one could argue the Reds are such a team, but Bob Boone is managing—but don't know how serious the interest is and how much the Reds appear to value him in trade discussions. Any insight is appreciated.

    Brad Daves
    Apex, N.C.

Larson came out of nowhere (well, actually, Blinn JC in Texas) to have one of the best college seasons ever in 1997. He hit 40 homers and drove in 118 runs for Louisiana State—Rice's Lance Berkman surpassed him in both categories to lead NCAA Division I—and capped the year by winning Most Outstanding Player honors in Omaha after leading the Tigers to their second consecutive national championship. That June, the Reds made him the 14th overall pick in the first round.

Larson is having a huge year, with .340-20-57 totals through 64 games at Triple-A Indianapolis, and he leads the International League with a .660 average. But as Brad points out, he doesn't have an inspiring strikeout-walk ratio (56-20), though it's an improvement over his 123-24 mark at the same level a year ago. I'm not sold on him, because he's already 26 and he's repeating Triple-A after batting .255-14-55 there in 2001.

I can't imagine there's overwhelming trade interest in Larson. He's not necessarily going to provide immediate help in the majors, and he's not a top prospect, just a decent one. If says, the Cubs wanted to dump Jason Bere they might be willing to take Larson from the pitching-needy Reds, but Larson isn't going to be the key to a Bartolo Colon deal. I don't think he's better than Aaron Boone, who's having a rough year after two pretty solid ones, though he's cheaper and in Cincinnati that always helps. Boone is making $2.1 million this year and probably will command more in arbitration, so the Reds could nontender or trade him. But they might be more apt to give Russ Branyan a shot at the hot corner before turning to Larson.

    Did the Giants draft Travis Ishikawa as a longshot to sign in the 21st round, figuring he was committed to going to college, or did his stock drop that much?

    Angus Klein
    Campbell, Calif.

Ishikawa, a first baseman/outfielder from Federal Way (Wash.) High, fell in the draft because he reportedly had a seven-figure asking price. As happened with a lot of players who had signability questions, teams just backed away. He was considered a possible second- or third-rounder, but no one wanted to give him first-round money.

Ishikawa emerged suddenly this spring after getting little previous exposure. He didn't frequent the showcase circuit last summer and spent the fall playing football. He's athletic and has excellent raw power. If he doesn't sign with the Giants, he'll attend Oregon State.

June 21, 2002

I'm back in Omaha, making it to my 14th consecutive College World Series. This time I have my 7-year-old son A.J. in tow. He was out here in 1996 for Warren Morris' home run, though he was just 1 at the time. So this is the first CWS he'll remember, and he saw a memorable game last night. A.J. is rooting for Texas because he likes the Hook-'em-Horns sign, and he saw the Longhorns beat Stanford 6-5 on a seventh-inning homer by Dustin Majewski. Afterward, A.J. high-fived Texas closer Huston Street (who has tied the single Series record with three saves already) and center fielder Kalani Napoleon. Before the game, he met Rod Dedeaux, who coached Southern California to a record 11 championships, including five straight from 1970-74.

Two games left. I'll pick South Carolina over Clemson today, though that might just be the Southeastern Conference in me talking. With ace Justin Simmons on the mound Saturday, I'll pick Texas to win, which would make Augie Garrido the first coach to win the national title at two schools. If the Longhorns face the Gamecocks, it will be a rematch of the 1975 championship game, which gave legendary Texas coach Cliff Gustafson his first championship. That was also the first year that Garrido took a team to Omaha, making the first of his seven trips with Cal State Fullerton.

    Just like the All-Star Game, every year there are players who could make the Futures Game but don't. Why was Michael Restovich chosen and not Michael Cuddyer, who is having a slightly better year and was ranked as a better prospect before the year by Baseball America?

    Bruce Norlander

When we pick the Futures Game rosters in conjunction with Major League Baseball, we obviously try to pick the best players available. But there are also a number of other considerations. Each organization must have at least one player but no more than two among the 50 selected. Representing as many different nations on the World team is a must, and new faces are preferred.

Cuddyer played in the first Futures Game, going 0-for-1 as a third baseman in 1999 in Boston. I agree that he's a better prospect than Restovich, but Restovich isn't a slouch by any means and hasn't appeared in the Futures Game. That's probably the reason he was taken over Cuddyer.

    I'm just curious to know why Jose Reyes is playing second base and not shortstop at the Futures Game? Is Omar Infante a better shortstop prospect then Reyes? I haven't heard much about Infante, and yes I'm a Mets fan, so I know a lot about Reyes. Will they switch between second base and shortstop?

    Kevin Janicek
    Queens, N.Y.

As I mentioned in the last Ask BA, the only minor league shortstops I would take over Reyes are Montreal's Brandon Phillips and Kansas City's Angel Berroa. Both Infante and Reyes are stellar defenders, but Reyes offers more offensive upside. Infante, 20, batted .229 with a .600 on-base plus slugging percentage and 11 steals in his first 51 Triple-A games this year. Reyes, who just turned 19 and is 18 months younger, hit .288 with an .815 OPS and 31 steals in his first 69 high Class A games.

So why is Reyes playing second base? Because there were four shortstops (also Berroa and Seattle's Jose Lopez) worthy of making the World roster, but no second basemen. Reyes and Lopez are less advanced than the other two, so my guess is that they'll play second this year and get the opportunity to play shortstop in the subsequent years. Both Infante and Berroa are in Triple-A and figure to be big league starters in 2003, if not sooner, so they'll be showcased at their natural positions.

    It's been mentioned many times that there were no Mark Priors in this year's draft, but who from the draft could be playing on a regular basis in the majors by next year?

    Joel Levitt
    Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Only on rare occasions is there a Mark Prior in a draft, from the standpoint of talent. But when I looked at the first player to reach the majors for each draft from 1990-2001, I was surprised to learn that Prior actually was three months behind the average:

1990: Alex Fernandez, rhp, White Sox (two months)
1991: Benji Gil, ss, Rangers (22 months)
1992: Jeffrey Hammonds, of, Orioles (12 months)
1993: Brian Anderson, lhp, Angels (three months)
1994: Dustin Hermanson, rhp, Padres (11 months)
1995: Ariel Prieto, rhp, Athletics (one month)
1996: Mark Kotsay, of, Marlins (13 months)
1997: Jim Parque, lhp, White Sox (12 months)
1998: J.D. Drew, of, Cardinals (three months)
1999: Eric Munson, 1b, Tigers (13 months)
2000: Xavier Nady, 3b, Padres (four months)
2001: Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs (12 months)

I was prepared to write that players usually don't reach the majors as quickly as Prior did, but that's not the case in terms of elapsed time. (Most do require more than nine games in the minors, though because he signed late it took him nearly a year after he was drafted to make it to Wrigley Field). This list is skewed because Anderson, Drew, Munson and Nady all had major league contracts, which made it easier to promote them. (As did Prior, but he certainly made the Cubs 100 percent on merit.)

Getting back to the 2002 draft, I still will be surprised if anyone will be a big league regular in 2003. One or two guys might get a cup of coffee, but that should be it.

    Why was Texas A&M righthander Matt Farnum, who was ranked in the Top 100 on BA's predraft listings, taken so low (pick No. 716) by the Blue Jays? Does he have an injury? The Jays picked an injured player in Miami (Ohio) lefty Chris Leonard, and I'm wondering if they did it again with Farnum or if there's some other reason. Please elaborate!

    Peter Green

Farnum isn't hurt. He dropped in the draft for the same reason a lot of other players did this year: signability.

A draft-eligible sophomore, Farnum led the Aggies in wins (six) and saves (three) while posting a 4.28 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 51 innings. Though he's not exceptionally tall at 6-foot-1, he throws on a good downward plane and has a low-90s fastball than can get up to 95 mph. His curveball is average at best, but there was enough interest in Farnum that he could have gone in the second round.

But word got out that he wanted first-round money, and teams this year for the most part decided to avoid players who were going to be difficult to sign. Because Farnum has two years of eligibility remaining, he has more leverage than the average college draftee.

    What do you think of Braves righthander Trey Hodges? I've heard before that his stuff isn't rated very highly, but after sharing high Class A Carolina League pitcher-of-the-year honors last year and starting out 11-2 in Triple-A this year, it seems hard to question him. Is he not one of the better rookie prospects for 2003?

    C.B. Wilkins

Hodges had a low profile at Louisiana State because he had shoulder surgery in 1999, but he recovered in time to win the MVP award at the 2000 College World Series, when he won the championship game against Stanford. Drafted in the 17th round that year, he didn't do much in relief at short-season Jamestown that summer before breaking out in 2001.

I'm not ready to pencil him into Atlanta's 2003 rotation, though if Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux leaves as a free agents he'll be one of the candidates to replace them. The 23-year-old Hodges is yet another example of why command matters just as much if not more than pure stuff. His pitches aren't bad, though he doesn't have a lot of mustard on his fastball. It's more notable for its life, and it's his second-best pitch behind his slider.

But Hodges just doesn't walk anyone, which gives him a chance to win every time he takes the mound. He had a 2.76 ERA and a 139-18 strikeout-walk ratio in 173 innings last year. After skipping Double-A in 2002, he had a 2.37 ERA and a 60-26 strikeout-walk ratio in his first 87 innings. Long term, he profiles as more of a middle reliever, but his slider and control could allow him to put together a lengthy major league career.

June 18, 2002

I'm looking forward to the potential big league debut of an Astros prospect tonight. And no, it's not scheduled starter Kirk Saarloos, though he does intrigue me and will become the second player (after some guy named Prior) from the 2001 draft to reach the majors.

Catcher-first baseman Alan Zinter was called up on Sunday. An All-America catcher at Arizona and a first-round pick of the Mets in 1989, he has toiled for 14 seasons in the minors before getting his first promotion. He's not destined for the Hall of Fame, obviously, but he's a switch-hitter with some power and will give manager Jimy Williams a third catcher and additional pinch-hitting option.

"Obviously, he loves the game to have played as long as he has, " Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker told the Houston Chronicle. "This is his 14th year in the minor leagues. Believe me, he hasn't gotten wealthy playing baseball during the last 14 years. It's a special moment for him and, to some degree, a special moment for me."

    Any idea where Nic Jackson is? I haven't seen him play, nor have I seen anything written about why he's not playing. How can readers find out, generally, when a minor leaguer is sidelined if it isn't a major news item?

    Mike Sherman
    Berwyn, Pa.

    What happened to Nic Jackson of Double-A West Tenn? He was a highly touted outfield prospect, off to a good start. I assume he's on the disabled list, but what is his status and the expectation for his return?

    Bud Stafford
    Placerville, Calif.

    I have a couple of questions about Nic Jackson. Where is he right now? He seemed to be off to a decent start, but it doesn't seem like he's playing right now. Is he injured? Where do you see him playing when he does make it to the bigs? Also, whom do you project to be a better player: Jackson or the sweet-swinging but positionless David Kelton?

    Ryan Hall
    Santa Cruz, Calif.

Inquiring minds definitely want to know about Nic Jackson, a 2000 third-round pick out of Richmond who's reminiscent of fellow former Spider Brian Jordan. Jackson hit .296-19-85 with 25 steals at Daytona last year, when managers named him the high Class A Florida State League's most exciting player.

He started off 2002 on fire at West Tenn, batting .352-3-20 with seven steals in April. May wasn't nearly as kind, however, as Jackson went into a 1-for-26 slump. Making matters worse, he fouled a pitch off his right foot on May 5, knocking him out of the starting lineup for a couple of days. Then on May 11, he fouled another ball off his right ankle, which kept him on crutches for a week. He has yet to play since, though the diagnosis is still a bruised right shin and nothing more serious. There's no exact timetable for his return.

If Jackson is going to crack the Cubs' starting lineup in the future, it will be in left field. Corey Patterson in center and Sammy Sosa in right aren't going anywhere for a long time. Complicating matters, of course, is that Moises Alou is in the first year of a three-year contract to play left field. Assuming Alou can snap out of his season-long doldrums, I can see Jackson spending this season in Double-A, 2003 in Triple-A and 2004 as a fourth outfielder in Chicago.

Kelton and Jackson are near equals as hitters, though I'd give the edge to Kelton provided he can tone down his strikeouts somewhat. Kelton has more power, but Jackson has more speed and is a better athlete. I still have a slight preference for Kelton as an overall prospect.

The biggest difference right now is that it's easy to project where Jackson will play for the Cubs and it's difficult to do the same for Kelton. Unless he can overcome his throwing problems and return to third base, Kelton may not find an opening in Chicago. At first base, where he's playing now, he'd be trapped behind Hee Seop Choi. It's possible he could play the outfield, where he saw time during his Arizona Fall League stint last year, but he still needs work there and would have to compete with Alou and Jackson.

We try to update as many injuries to significant players as we can, usually in the Daily Dish. Other good sources are the websites for the individual teams and the local newspapers that cover them, though these can be very hit-and-miss.

    What can you tell me about Tyler Greene, the shortstop from Plantation (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas High? He dropped out of sight after making your preseason High School All-America second team.

    Jon Mosier
    San Francisco

Greene didn't really drop out of sight. He was a second-round pick of the Braves a couple of weeks ago, a compensation choice from the Yankees for the free-agent signing of reliever Steve Karsay. He comes from the same high school program that sent Chad Mottola, Mike Stanley and Ed Yarnall to the big leagues and also produced former Braves first-rounder Troy Cameron and current Notre Dame freshman righthander Chris Niesel, who pitched very well at the College World Series yesterday.

Greene was one of the better tools players in Florida. He has a pro shortstop body at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, and his speed and arm are both above average. He was one of the few legitimate pure shortstops in the 2002 draft. He hit .500 as a junior and .525 as a senior, and might have been a first-round pick had he fared better with wood bats last summer. If he doesn't sign with Atlanta, he'll attend Georgia Tech.

    Erik Bedard has been invited to the Futures Game. I believe he has given up zero earned runs in over half his starts. How high are the standards that keep BA from recognizing him (or John Stephens) on the Prospect Hot Sheet? After cracking BA's Top 100 Prospects list this year, does Bedard have a chance to move into the Top 50 next year? Any chance Stephens cracks the Top 100?

    Adam Forster
    New York

I really like both Bedard and Stephens. The key for Bedard is staying healthy. He missed time with a sore arm last year but didn't require surgery, and he's had some minor back problems in 2002. But when he's taken the mound at Double-A Bowie, he has been spectacular. He hasn't allowed an earned run in his last four appearances, nor in five of his 10 starts. He's 6-2, leads the Eastern League with a 1.61 ERA and has 58 strikeouts in 56 innings. Bedard has a lot of life on a low-90s fastball, a curveball and a changeup, and I think he's the best pitching prospect in the Orioles system.

Stephens has been one of my favorite minor leaguers to watch for a long time. An Australian bonus baby, he sustained nerve damage in his pitching arm while fielding a bunt in 1998. Though he never regained the velocity on his fastball, which sits in the 82-86 mph range, it hasn't mattered. He has a career record of 45-28, 2.64 with 738 strikeouts in 675 innings. He has gone 9-3, 2.14 in 14 Triple-A starts in 2002, and he leads the International League with 92 whiffs and 105 innings. He succeeds by pinpointing and mixing all of his pitches, which also include a curveball and a variety of changeups.

If they keep doing what they've done thus far in 2002, I would think you'd definitely see Bedard in next year's Top 50 and Stephens on the Top 100, unless they get called up to Baltimore and exhaust their rookie eligibility. The Prospect Hot Sheet is a very unscientific combination of how prospects were regarded entering the season and how they've performed this year. Both Bedard and Stephens are fine candidates, and I'll make sure they get strong consideration for the next Hot Sheet.

June 14, 2002

Baseball's greatest single event, the College World Series, begins today. I've been to just about every baseball happening imaginable, and I'll stand by that claim. Some people can't get past the aluminum bat, and I feel sorry for them. Watch the CWS, and you'll see nine days of eight of the best college teams battling it out to win a national championship, nothing more.

They're not vying for free-agent bucks or endorsements. They don't take it easy so they can stay off the disabled list. No egos. Just baseball. And lots of future major league stars, as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark Prior (he was there just last year) immediately jump to mind.

All of the games will be televised live on ESPN, ESPN2 or CBS (click here for the schedule), and our college ace, John Manuel, will blanket our website with coverage from now until next Saturday.

No, I didn't consult with John before making my prediction that Stanford would beat Nebraska to win the CWS. We made the same choice independently. I think one of the huge keys to Omaha is having players with CWS experience, so they can keep the team from being overwhelmed and just focus on getting the job done. Right off the bat, that eliminates Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and South Carolina.

No. 1-ranked Rice might have the most balanced club (despite not having a player drafted before the ninth round last week), but the Owls are in a tough bracket with Stanford and Texas. The Cardinal went to the semifinals in 1999 and lost in the championship game each of the last two years, and I think that edge in experience will put Stanford over the top. In the other bracket, Nebraska should be much more prepared to advance in the CWS after making its initial trip last year. I think the home-state advantage will push the Cornhuskers past Clemson. If Shane Komine is on the mound for the finale, I just might have to favor Nebraska at that point.

    This year in the high Class A Florida State League, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes already has surpassed his career home run total (with six) in an awful home run league, leads the league in triples (nine) and steals (31), and has made remarkable strides in his strike-zone recognition (30 walks in 66 games, after drawing just 18 walks all of last season). He's obviously a wonderful defensive player and if he doesn't show up on the BA age discrepancy list any time soon, just turned 19 three days ago. Would it be to soon to call him the best shortstop prospect in the minors, or even among the elite prospects in all of baseball right now?

    Kevin Goldstein

When Friend of BA Kevin Goldstein asks a question, we answer it. He helped design this website years ago, constantly chips in with astute observations and even has a mailing list that highlights the daily minor league performance of baseball's top prospects (The Prospect Report).

I'll give Kevin a 1-for-2 on his question. Yes, Reyes is among the elite prospects in all of baseball. I'm always a bit suspicious of prospects who burst out of nowhere, but Reyes is showing that his .307-5-48, 30-steal performance in the low Class A South Atlantic League last year was no fluke. He's a switch-hitter who can run, he's improving his on-base ability and he's a flashy and reliable fielder. Unless his age gets revised, he's one of the top 25 or 30 prospects in baseball. If I were Rey Ordonez, I'd be getting very worried.

I'm not ready to call Reyes the best shortstop prospect in the minors, however. When I wrote our Prospect Showdown feature earlier this year, several scouts told me they projected Brandon Phillips as a second baseman. But the Expos continue to play him at shortstop and he's having a huge year in Double-A. I wish Phillips walked a bit more, but it's hard to argue with his .327 average, .380 on-base percentage and .506 slugging percentage. I'd also take Kansas City's Angel Berroa over Reyes at this point, because Berroa is more advanced, but I have moved Reyes ahead of Atlanta's Wilson Betemit.

    I realize Josh Phelps has thrown out just 11 percent of basestealers this year, but considering Darrin Fletcher, Ken Huckaby and Tom Wilson are combining to erase just 16 percent in the majors, why are the Blue Jays changing Phelps' position? His arm strength isn't terrible and he still could improve his defense, which is more than we can say about the other three. Why doesn't GM J.P. Ricciardi promote him and take his chances with a definite offensive upgrade?

    Glenn Panner
    Frankfort, Ill.

I'm puzzled by the decision to move Phelps to first base as well. When I talked to the Blue Jays in spring training, they raved about Phelps' hands and game-calling ability. They thought that with a healthy right knee this year, his footwork would be much improved and he'd be able to better his 18 percent success rate at catching basestealers from 2001. That obviously hasn't happened, though he's having another great year with the bat, hitting .289-20-52 in 55 games at Triple-A Syracuse.

Kevin Cash, who just got promoted from Double-A, is a superior defender, but Phelps is a better hitter. He has been bothered by a sore shoulder, though Cash wasn't brought up as a stopgap. At the moment, Toronto seems intent on making Phelps a first baseman. If I were running the Blue Jays, I'd trade one of my four everyday outfielders and make Phelps a starter, giving him time at DH and easing him in at catcher.

    What ever happened to Pedro Liriano, the Mariners' minor league second baseman? He hit .400 in Rookie ball two years ago and .326 in low Class A last season. It seemed like he might move up to Double-A San Antonio this year by the way he was progressing, but his name never has shown up anywhere.

    Dan Shepherd

Liriano is a favorite of Ask BA readers, as I constantly get questions as to why he's not a more highly regarded prospect. I put him 25th on Seattle's stacked Top 30 list in the offseason, noting that his statistics are more impressive than his tools. The Mariners don't regard him as being very strong or fast, despite his 65 steals last season, he doesn't walk much and he's very rough defensively. Still, he performed very well for a 19-year-old in the Midwest League in 2001.

That is, if he was a 19-year-old. Liriano is still stuck in his native Dominican Republic because he can't properly document his Feb. 20, 1982 birthdate to get a visa. Liriano wasn't born in a hospital and his birth wasn't official recorded until much later, and he hasn't been able to satisfy the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

June 11, 2002

Please. Roger Clemens takes exception to Barry Bonds hanging over the plate and hits him on the elbow. And now we have an MLB investigation. I'm sure Congress will jump in next.

News flash: Barry Bonds does hang over the plate. Roger Clemens likes to pitch inside. Yes, maybe it wasn't the smartest thing for Clemens to say he just might hit Bonds before they met. But here's another news flash: Clemens isn't exactly the smartest big leaguer.

What is MLB going to do? Fine him a few thousand dollars? Suspend him for a start? Neither of those is going to be a significant punishment, so why waste all the time for the investigation and almost-certain appeal if there's any penalty handed down?

    Some Angels fans seem to be in a wee bit of a snit because the Angels chose Joe Saunders with the No. 12 pick in the first round instead of Scott Kazmir, who went to the Mets at No. 15. Isn't there something to be said for choosing a more polished college junior than a high school senior? Even if Kazmir has more raw ability, the Angels have no lefthanded pitching prospects in the upper minors, and Saunders should arrive way before Kazmir. Your opinion?

    Stephen Smith
    Irvine, Calif.

I sense that Stephen, who runs the fine site, is growing frustrated at the perception that the Angels may have just taken the cheap way out, signing Saunders quickly for $1.825 million while passing on Kazmir, who may cost twice as much.

From a stuff standpoint, Kazmir is clearly superior. Kazmir has two well above-average pitches with his fastball (that reaches 96 mph and has plenty of life) and slider, a third plus pitch with his curveball and also shows feel for a changeup. Saunders' can touch 94 with his fastball but usually pitches at 88-91, and his curve is also just average at this point. His changeup is his out pitch right now, and it's a nifty one.

If there's a knock on Kazmir, who was spectacular all spring, it's his size. He's only 6 feet and 170 pounds, and a lot of scouts wonder if he'll have the durability to be a major league starter. There are no such worries about Saunders, who's 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds.

Kazmir definitely has a higher ceiling. In our final revised Top 100 Prospects list that came out just before the draft, we ranked Kazmir as the second-best talent available. Saunders was 17th.

But in addition to ceiling, teams have to factor in a player's likelihood of reaching that potential. And while cost probably played some factor in Anaheim's choice, risk certainly did as well. Saunders should be one of the first picks from this draft to reach the majors. Kazmir should be one of the first high schoolers from this crop to do so, but Saunders definitely was a safer pick.

Looking at the previous 10 drafts, 40 lefthanders signed as first-round picks. Twenty-one of them came from colleges, 19 from high schools. I divided them into five categories: all-stars, potential all-stars, legitimate big leaguers, current members of their teams Top 10 Prospects list and busts (or leftovers). Here's the breakdown:

                Star     Pot. Star     Legit     Top 10     Bust
College           2           2          6          3         8
High School       1           1          2          6         9

The all-stars or potential all-stars in each group are Eric Milton, Mark Mulder, Billy Wagner and Barry Zito from the college side, and Shawn Estes and C.C. Sabathia from the high school ranks. It would be foolish to assume that all of the current Top 10 Prospects are going to become solid major leaguers, because that just doesn't happen with pitchers. For now, let's remove them totally from the equation. We find that 56 percent of the college first-round lefthanders had at least decent big league careers, compared to 31 percent of the high schoolers. And that was with giving prep draftees Nick Bierbrodt and Dan Serafini the benefit of the doubt as to being legit big leaguers.

Saunders wasn't as sexy a choice as Kazmir, and he was more easily signable. Based on the history of the draft, it's hard to argue that Saunders wasn't a safer bet as well.

    Why did Jeff Clement fall to the 11th round? Baseball America ranked him as the 39th-most talented player in the draft.

    Tim Johnson

Based purely on talent, Clement figured to go in the sandwich or second round. Iowa never has had a high school player taken in the first round, and after Matt Macri and Clement slid precipitously in the 2001 and 2002 drafts, maybe it's just not destined to happen.

A number of factors worked against Clement, who was one of the best lefthanded power hitters available. He didn't do well at the Perfect Game predraft showcase in mid-May, though he had looked good the previous week in front of a lot scouts. When he used wood bats this spring, he didn't show consistent power. He's only adequate behind the plate and there's concern over whether he's really a long-term catcher, which affected his value. He also is committed to Southern California, which last year held onto not one but two second-rounders in lefthanders J.P. Howell and Matt Chico (though Howell now is transferring).

The combination of all those things caused teams to back off of Clement. With a possible labor stoppage on the horizon, teams were less reluctant to mess with players with major signability questions this year. Unless everyone incorrectly gauged what it would take to land Clement, I think it's much more likely that he joins the Trojans rather than signing with the Twins. He could be the next Eric Munson, who also was a highly regarded lefthanded-hitting catcher in high school before helping Southern California win the 1998 College World Series.

    I'll be heading up to Cape Cod once again for 10 days this summer, and wanted to know which players to keep an eye on this year. And anyone in particular on Cotuit's roster whom I should pay attention to?

    Tim Mavor
    Waldorf, Md.

The Cape Cod League, the best summer college circuit, opens its 118th season on Friday. The amount of major league talent it produces is staggering. In 2001, 184 major leaguers were Cape Cod alumni, including All-Star Game starters Rich Aurilia, Todd Helton and Jeff Kent. In the draft last week, seven first-round picks were former Cape Leaguers: Drew Meyer (Rangers), Joe Saunders (Angels), Khalil Greene (Padres), Russ Adams (Blue Jays), Nick Swisher (Athletics), Bob Brownlie (Cubs) and Joe Blanton (Athletics).

As usual, several top Cape recruits have been invited to try out for the U.S. national team and may not make it to Massachusetts this summer. Among them are Southern shortstop/outfielder Rickie Weeks (Falmouth), the overall top-rated prospect for the 2003 draft; and Louisiana State shortstop Aaron Hill (Wareham), Georgia Tech outfielder Matt Murton (Wareham) and Wake Forest righthander Kyle Sleeth (Cotuit)—all of whom made our Cape Top 30 Prospects list last summer. Murton was the league's MVP.

Not that there will be any shortage of talent. Even if the Kettleers lose Sleeth, Texas shortstop Omar Quintanilla and Georgia catcher Clint Sammons to Team USA, they'll still have North Carolina righthander Garry Bakker, Tulane infielder Anthony Giarratano, Georgia third/baseman outfielder Lee Mitchell and Stetson corner infielders Brian Snyder and Bryan Zenchyk.

Defending league champion Wareham looks like the most loaded team. The Gatemen landed Vanderbilt lefthander Jeremy Sowers, the highest unsigned pick from the 2001 draft (Reds, first round). He's part of an influx of quality players who have just completed their freshman seasons: Texas shortstop Michael Hollimon, Georgia Tech catcher Mike Nickeas, Baylor lefthander Trey Taylor and Louisiana State outfielder/catcher Jonathan Zeringue. South Alabama righthander Clark Girardeau returns after going 4-2, 2.35 with 65 strikeouts in 61 innings for Wareham last year.

Other players to watch include Southern California lefthander/outfielder Matt Chico (Chatham), Stanford righthander Marc Jecmen and catcher/first baseman Donny Lucy (both Hyannis), South Florida shortstop Myron Leslie (Orleans), North Carolina lefthander Daniel Moore (Chatham) and UC Irvine righthander/DH Brett Smith (Orleans).

June 7, 2002

Conspiracy theory alert: BA online editor Blair Lovern points out that 20 percent of the Expos' recent draft consisted of players from the Washington D.C. area. Might they be trying to curry favor with their prospective new fan base? Here's the complete list:

7. Mike O'Conner, lhp, George Washington U.
18. Anthony Brown, of, George Washington U.
22. Marcus Davis, rhp, Luray (Va.) HS
24. Matthew Swope, of, U. of Maryland
33. Andrew Wells, lhp, St. Stephens-St. Agnes HS, Alexandria, Va.
34. Jack Lyons, lhp, Maret HS, Washington D.C.
40. Bryan Coffey, rhp, Culpepper (Va.) HS
42. Randy Dicken, rhp, Allegany (Md.) CC
45. Jon Link, rhp, Chantilly (Va.) HS
48. Kenneth Beck, rhp, U. of. Maryland

    In Cleveland, general manager Mark Shapiro is being killed by fans and the media for not being his predecessor, John Hart. Personally, I think the Indians are on the right path regardless of what happens this season by giving young talent, though limited on the position-player side, a chance to develop. I think he's doing a great job over the past two drafts of reloading on young talent. Could you assess the position players they got on the first day of the draft for me? It seems they got some good talent, and getting Jeremy Guthrie in the first round should give them a tremendous stable of pitchers in the next two or three years. How does the potential staff of Guthrie, C.C. Sabathia, Danys Baez, Ryan Drese, Billy Traber and Brian Tallet, with J.D. Martin, Dan Denham and Travis Foley on the way, stack up with other systems?

    John Hach
    Portage, Mich.

Cleveland fans might want to be careful what they wish for. Hart deserves a lot of credit for snapping the Indians out of their decades-long doldrums, coming up with the then-unheard of plan of signing young players to long-term contracts before they were eligible for free agency. But once the Indians became contenders, Hart's record doesn't look as outstanding. He wouldn't include Jaret Wright in a trade that would have yielded Pedro Martinez. He gave up Sean Casey to get Dave Burba, Brian Giles to get Ricardo Rincon. I'm not trying to rip Hart. I'm just pointing out that not everything he touched turned to gold, and Shapiro deserves some time to get the job done. Hart left for Texas because the Indians were preparing to slash payroll. Shapiro has had to make some unpopular moves, but he was merely following orders to cut costs.

The Indians do have a nice collection of young arms, one of the best in baseball. You didn't even mention Bartolo Colon, though he's been rumored in several trades that would save even more money. But I will remind you of the baseball adage that you need to develop 10 pitchers to find two; a lot of them go by the wayside en route to the major leagues.

I really did like Cleveland's draft, and scouting director John Mirabelli deserves credit for making adjustments on the fly. We had heard that the Indians wanted a bat at No. 22, in particular Florida high school first baseman Prince Fielder, who went seventh to Milwaukee. But when Guthrie, the most big league-ready pitcher in the draft, slid down to the Indians, they grabbed him. Then in the sandwich round, they got a tremendous value in Matt Whitney, a Florida prep third baseman who was expected to go in the middle of the first round. Cleveland's second sandwich pick yielded Louisiana high school infielder Micah Schilling, whose swing is supposed to be the best in the New Orleans area since Will Clark's.

The Indians just didn't stop grabbing bats with promise: Florida third baseman Pat Osborn (second round) is very athletic, Stanford outfielder Jason Cooper (third) has tremendous power, California high school first baseman Fernando Pacheco (fourth) is a poor man's Adrian Gonzalez, UCLA outfielder Ben Francisco (fifth round) can hit for average and steal bases, North Carolina State outfielder Brian Wright (seventh) just rakes . . . I could go on, but I think what I'm saying is obvious. We won't know for sure for another three or four years, but this sure looks like one of the best 2002 drafts to me.

    What happened to Anthony Reyes? He was ranked pretty high and wasn't even picked in the top 10 rounds.

    Jonathan LeMoine

What happened to Reyes is what happened to a lot of Scott Boras' advisees this year. The Southern California righthander slipped on his own merit, then slipped some more because of his choice of representation. He wound up going in the 13th round to the Tigers.

Reyes came down with elbow tendinitis in the fall and missed the first half of this spring. He did pitch well down the stretch for the Trojans, so that should ease some of the physical concerns. When he's at his best, he shows the potential for three plus pitches with his fastball, curveball and changeup. Signing him would be a bonus for Detroit, as he once projected as a sure first-round pick, but getting him under contract won't be easy.

    I was just wondering if we have finally seen the end of the Matt Harrington saga. Selected in the 13th round by Tampa Bay, this has to be it . . . doesn't it? He still can't be having any illusions that he will be getting a big money contract, can he?

    Kasey Ignarski
    Orland Park, Ill.

Who knows, honestly? Harrington's negotiations with the Rockies quickly dissolved into a war between the club and his adviser, Tommy Tanzer. Turning down a $4 million offer from Colorado was based more on emotion rather than rational thinking, and in fact Harrington is now suing Tanzer for negligence. Harrington got some bad advice there, but I don't see how Tanzer could have forced him to accept it.

What's even more puzzling is why Harrington and Boras, his new agent, turned down the $1.2 million major league contract the Padres offered after drafting him in the second round next year. At this rate, Harrington will choose another agent, get offered $360,000 and decline that.

Harrington continues to show the velocity that made him the consensus top prospect in the 2000 draft, but not the breaking ball or the command. Barely pitching for two years will do that to you. The Devil Rays don't have a lot of cash, and they're still looking for some return on huge investments in 1996 loophole free agents Matt White ($10 million) and Bobby Seay ($3 million). I can't see Tampa Bay offering nearly as much as San Diego did.

June 5, 2002

There weren't really any major shocks in yesterday's first round. The two first-rounders who got less predraft attention than the others were Tennessee high school righthander Matt Cain (25th to the Giants) and Maryland shortstop John McCurdy (26th to the Athletics), but Cain projected as a sandwich-round talent and McCurdy was considered a sandwich possibility for Oakland, which had seven picks before the second round.

One of the biggest news items was Texas high school lefty Scott Kazmir lasting until the Mets got him at No. 15. That doesn't mean Kazmir necessarily wants the moon or Josh Beckett money, however. The Reds never discussed money with him, instead using the possibility of picking him to leverage California prep righty Chris Gruler into signing a $2.5 million deal that was announced shortly after the first day of drafting ended. It wasn't a bad move for Gruler by any means; he otherwise probably would have gone seventh or eighth and gotten less than the Reds gave him.

Kazmir sliding all the way to the Mets indicates that the first 14 teams aren't going to deviate at all from the bonus slots recommended by the commissioner's office. I predict New York will sign Kazmir, he'll get approximately $3.5 million and that figure will be the third- or fourth-highest bonus in the draft.

We had technical problems with our draft chat yesterday, as all the interest in the draft overwhelmed our server. I came back last evening and answered several questions, so check that out. We'll try to hold at least one more draft chat later in the week, probably no earlier than Thursday.

    In recent chats and Ask BA columns, you mentioned that Jason Neighborgall was one of the two best pitchers available, and that the Red Sox would love to pick him should he fall to the second round. However, it was also stated that he most likely would go in the first round or as a sandwich pick. I find it curious, then, that the Sox did in fact select him, but not in the first round. Rather, he was taken in the seventh round (208th overall)! What's the reason for this? It must be more than just questions of signability and Scott Boras, right?

    Ryan Vachon
    Washington, D.C.

Nothing changed with Neighborgall's situation. As we mentioned leading up to the draft, Neighborgall and Kazmir had the best pure stuff of any pitchers in the draft. Besides his reported $5 million price tag, there were two other issues with Neighborgall. He didn't pitch in 2001 because of back problems, and his command was shaky this spring. Those concerns made teams very reluctant to ante up for Neighborgall, who would have been a top 10 selection, easy, if those decisions were made based solely on talent.

Though he went in the seventh round, that still made Neighborgall the sixth-highest pick among Boras' dozen high-profile advisees. What has happened this year is that many of Boras' guys didn't perform up to scouts' expectations, and teams just decided—perhaps in fear of another labor Armageddon—they weren't going to pay premium prices for them. It looks like the Red Sox gauged the interest in Neighborgall and decided to let him slide a few rounds past their top pick, which was in the second round. Boston used that choice to get a first-round talent in Washington high school lefthander Jon Lester, who's eminently more signable than Neighborgall.

    With Bobby Brownlie, Luke Hagerty, Chadd Blasko and Brian Dopirak, I think the Cubs had a pretty good draft. What do you think? If Brownlie gets to be as good as he was expected to be, he could be an absolute steal.

    Kevin Snyder
    Davenport, Iowa

I agree with you, Kevin. Brownlie's MRI showed nothing more than tendinitis and a bruise, and he should be back to his usual dominant self after some rest. He's not Mark Prior, but getting Brownlie means that for the second year in a row, the Cubs got arguably the best college pitcher available in the draft. Not a bad trick when you pick 21st.

And if Chicago can't sign Brownlie for the price it wants, it can still have a good draft without him. In the sandwich round, they got three power arms in Hagerty, Blasko (like Brownlie a Boras client) and Orange Coast JC righthander Matt Clanton. Then in the second round, the Cubs got the player with the best raw power in the entire draft, Dopirak. He's a free swinger and some scouts think he might not get out of Double-A, but others think he could be a 45-50 homer guy in the majors.

Their other second-rounder, Virginia high school lefthander Justin Jones, is extremely projectable. Chicago kept taking intriguing prospects, including Illinois prep righthander Billy Petrick (a top long snapper recruit signed by Washington State) and Richmond shortstop Matt Craig in the third round, and Michigan lefthander Rich Hill in the fourth.

While catcher is the greatest need in the Cubs system, they didn't overdraft to fill the position. Instead, they took five backstops later in the draft: Florida high schooler Alan Rick in the fourth, UC Irvine's Chris Miller in the 11th, Seminole State (Okla.) JC's Clifton Medlin in the 15th, Notre Dame's Paul O'Toole in the 21st and Texas prepster Taylor Teagarden in the 22nd. They probably won't sign all five, but they should wind up with a nice mix of offensive catchers and catch-and-throw guys.

    Any thoughts on why the Tigers opted for Scott Moore over Jeremy Hermida? It seemed in most projections that Hermida would be gone by No. 8, but he slipped all the way to the Marlins at No. 11. Who has the better projection as a hitter? Also, what are your impressions of the Tigers' top 10 picks?

    Kurt Berger
    Wyandotte, Mich.

The consensus of teams considered Hermida and Moore the two best high school hitters in the draft, in that order. The Tigers may have preferred Moore's bat, and it's also possible that they wanted a possible shortstop/more likely third baseman over a projected corner outfielder. Detroit got four outfielders in the next four rounds, and maybe it had a good idea that might happen. The Tigers hoped that Gruler would have gotten to them at No. 8, but the Reds took him.

Looking at Detroit's work in the first 10 rounds, it's obvious that it targeted athletes. Second-round outfielder Brent Clevlen starred at the Area Code Games last summer, showing bat and foot speed, plus power and arm strength. He also was a high school quarterback. Third-round outfielder Curtis Granderson has solid all-around tools. Fourth-round outfielder Robbie Sovie has a football scholarship from Western Carolina and is the fastest legitimate prospect in the draft. Fifth-round outfielder Bo Flowers is another multitooled talent.

Third-round righthander Matt Pender, seventh-round outfielder Wilton Reynolds and eighth-round righty Troy Pickford all have classic pro bodies. Sixth-round third baseman/righthander Chris Maples is smallish, but he had as good a two-way season as anyone in college baseball this spring.

All in all, it's a promising draft. Thirteenth-round righthander Anthony Reyes was a sure first-rounder until he missed time with elbow tendinitis, though he has pitched very well down the stretch for Southern California. He's a Boras client and won't be an easy sign as that low a pick, but he'd be a nice addition if the Tigers can get him.

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