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By Jim Callis

Aug. 29, 2003

Crazy Barry Bonds Statistic No. 83, pointed out to me by GM Kevin Goldstein: Entering tonight's game, he had more intentional walks (50) than strikeouts (49). That would be a hard trick for even Joe Sewell to pull off.

And it's a comedown for Bonds, who had 68 intentional walks and 47 whiffs last year. Wow.

Make that a double wow. Not only was Bonds' +21 the all-time record, second place is a mere +3 by Manny Mota, who had just 50 plate appearances (3 IBB, 0 K) in 1977. The only other regular besides Bonds to finish with more intentional walks than strikeouts was Doug Rader (23 IBB, 22 K) in 1973. Thanks to Friend of Ask BA Rob Miller (Oakland) for providing the historical research.

    I know you sort of touched on junior college guys earlier this summer. I just got a little caught up in doing some stuff for my Strat-O-Matic League and started building a juco all-star team. Feel free to embellish on this if you wish. Imagine a pitching staff of Rich Harden, Roy Oswalt, Tim Redding, Curt Schilling and Mark Buehrle, with Tim Spooneybarger, Eric Gagne and Jason Isringhausen coming out of the pen. How does a lineup of Junior Spivey (ss/slightly out of position), Marcus Giles (2b), Albert Pujols (lf), Mike Piazza (dh), Jorge Posada (c), Erubiel Durazo (1b), Shea Hillenbrand (3b), Raul Ibanez (rf) and Marlon Byrd (cf) sound? All of those guys are products of junior colleges.

    James Bailey
    Rochester, N.Y.

You may remember that James is the guy who kicked off Ask BA (on Oct. 7, 1999, to be exact). So when he asks a question—especially a good question—we'll answer it. Armed with James' suggestions, I did some more research of my own and came up with enough names to form two teams, one of players who signed out of the draft and another of draft-and-follows. I only counted players whose last school was a juco, so Roger Clemens of San Jacinto (Texas) JC and the University of Texas wasn't eligible.

Draft (or NDFA)                        
SP   Joel Pineiro (Edison, Fla.)            
SP   John Lackey (Grayson County, Texas)    
SP   Ted Lilly (Fresno)                     
SP   John Thomson (Blinn, Texas)            
SP   Darrell May (Sacramento)               
RP   Eric Gagne (Seminole, Okla.)           
RP   David Riske (Green River, Wash.)       
RP   David Weathers (Motlow State, Tenn.)   
C    Mike Piazza (Miami-Dade North)         
1B   Jim Thome (Illinois Central)           
2B   Junior Spivey (Cowley County, Kan.)    
3B   Shea Hillenbrand (Mesa, Ariz.)         
SS   Placido Polanco (Miami-Dade Wolfson)   
LF   Raul Ibanez (Miami-Dade South)         
CF   Marlon Byrd (Georgia Perimeter)        
RF   Albert Pujols (Maple Woods, Mo.)       
DH   Erubiel Durazo (Pima, Ariz.)           

Draft & Follow
SP   Curt Schilling (Yavapai, Ariz.)
SP   Roy Oswalt (Holmes, Miss.)
SP   Mark Buehrle (Jefferson, Mo.)
SP   Andy Pettitte (San Jacinto, Texas) 
SP   Rich Harden (Central Arizona)
RP   Jason Isringhausen (Lewis & Clark, Ill.)
RP   Eddie Guardado (San Joaquin Delta, Calif.)
RP   Kyle Farnsworth (Abraham Baldwin, Ga.)
C    Jorge Posada (Calhoun, Ala.)
1B   Travis Hafner (Cowley County, Kan.)
2B   Marcus Giles (Grossmont, Calif.)
3B   Cory Koskie (Kwantlen, B.C.)
SS   Julio Lugo (Connors State, Okla.)
LF   Moises Alou (Canada, Calif.)
CF   Gary Matthews Jr. (Los Angeles Mission)
RF   Reggie Sanders (Spartanburg Methodist, S.C.)
DH   Aaron Guiel (Kwantlen, B.C.)

Gagne signed as a nondrafted free agent and Durazo went from Pima CC to the Mexican League before hooking up with the Diamondbacks. I decided they fit more with the draft team than the DFEs, so you'll find them there. Curt Schilling and Moises Alou were both January 1986 draft picks who signed after their seasons ended in May, so I grouped them with the draft-and-follows.

It's interesting that the DFEs have the much stronger pitching staff, while the straight drafts have a significantly more potent lineup. The draft-and-follow rotation is so strong that I'd give them the edge in a seven-game series.

    What top prospects are going to be in the California League next year?

    Ryan Maguire
    Murrieta, Calif.

There should be a lot of talent, as usual, in the Cal League in 2004. Here's my dream team, not considering anyone who already has reached the high Class A level:

SP   Manny Parra, High Desert (Brewers)
SP   Tim Stauffer, Lake Elsinore (Padres)
SP   Matt Cain, San Jose (Giants)
SP   Brad Sullivan, Modesto (Athletics)
SP   Rafael Rodriguez, Cedar Rapids (Angels)
RP   Wilmer Villatoro, Lake Elsinore (Padres)
C    Rene Rivera, Inland Empire (Mariners)
1B   Vince Sinisi, Stockton (Rangers)
2B   Rickie Weeks, High Desert (Brewers)
3B   Conor Jackson, Lancaster (Diamondbacks)
SS   Erick Aybar, Rancho Cucamonga (Angels)
LF   Carlos Quentin, Lancaster (Diamondbacks)
CF   Anthony Gwynn, High Desert (Brewers)
RF   Wes Bankston, Bakersfield (Devil Rays)
DH   Prince Fielder, High Desert (Brewers)

There were a lot of tough calls, especially among the pitchers, and I had a hard time just putting the rotation in order. I really like Angels second baseman Alberto Callaspo, but Rickie Weeks is Rickie Weeks. Wilmer Villatoro is the biggest sleeper on that list. He has an explosive fastball that has overmatched low Class A Midwest League hitters (12.67 strikeouts per nine innings, .162 opponent average).

I'd be surprised if they started next year in high Class A, but two early first-round picks from 2003 who could reach the Cal League for the second half are outfielder Delmon Young (No. 1, Devil Rays) and lefthander John Danks (No. 9, Rangers).

Aug. 27, 2003

It's an accepted belief in baseball that power is often the last tool to develop. And now we have the numbers to back it up. On a recent visit to the always entertaining Sons of Sam Horn message board, I noticed a comment from Ask BA reader Mike Koblish (Exton, Pa.), who compiled minor league data for the last five completed seasons (1998-02). He was gracious enough to share his findings with Ask BA, so here they are:

Level             HR/500 PA
Majors                 14.6
Triple-A               13.1
Double-A               10.8 
High A                  8.8
Low A                   8.5
Short-Season            7.1
Rookie Advanced         9.2
Rookie                  5.0
Note: PA = AB + BB

Except for a surge at the Rookie Advanced level, where the Appalachian and Pioneer leagues are the two most hitter-friendly circuits in the minors, it's a straight progression from Rookie ball through the majors.

Mike sent me a spreadsheet with all sorts of numbers. Another interesting part of his research was how defense improved at the higher levels of the game. He measured that by the percentage of hits per balls in play. Hits on balls in play is simply hits minus home runs, while balls in play is estimated by multiplying innings pitched by 2.82, then adding singles, doubles and triples while subtracting strikeouts.

Level                 H/BIP
Majors                 .302
Triple-A               .314
Double-A               .310 
High A                 .314
Low A                  .314
Short-Season           .318
Rookie Advanced        .337
Rookie                 .324

It's not as tidy as the home run progression, but it's still instructive. Considering that a typical game has roughly 50 balls in play, big league fielders turn an extra ball into an out every two games compared to Triple-A defenders, and every game compared to entry-level players.

    Josh Boyd just ranked the top second-base prospects, but he didn't include Rickie Weeks. If you had to include him, where would he rank?

    Jay Colognori
    Midlothian, Va.

    Should Brewers fans be concerned about Rickie Weeks' defense at second base? He seems to be making an error almost every game so far. Was he a good defensive player in college?

    Ajay Wadhwa

When Josh puts together his Scouting Department rankings, he doesn't include 2003 signees, which is why Weeks was omitted. But there's no doubt that Weeks, drafted No. 2 overall in June by the Brewers, would rank No. 1 on that list ahead of the Padres' Josh Barfield if he had been considered.

Barfield is just 20 and leads the minors in hits and RBIs, but Weeks projects to be a better hitter, is a better athlete and has a better chance to stay at second base. After going 2-for-4 in a Rookie-level Arizona League game, Weeks has hit .341/.492/.568 in his first 14 low Class A Midwest League contests. In the MWL, he has 12 walks and just four strikeouts.

Weeks, the all-time leading hitter in NCAA history, is far more advanced with the bat than with the glove. He dabbled at shortstop and played mostly center field in his first two years at Southern, then spent 2003 at second base. He's going to need more time to get acclimated at second, where he has made seven errors in 13 games as a pro. Don Money, his manager at Beloit, reports that Weeks has a plus arm and good hands. He needs to work on his double-play pivot, and most of his errors have come on errant throws, which Money attributes to Weeks' two-month layoff.

We keep touting the vastly improved Brewers system. With all the talent they've brought in over the last few years, I'd still rank Weeks as their best prospect ahead of first basemen Prince Fielder and Brad Nelson, shortstop J.J. Hardy, righthander Mike Jones, lefty Manny Parra and outfielder Dave Krynzel.

    In Josh Boyd's recent catching rankings, he had Justin Huber as the No. 4 catching prospect in baseball. I noticed that his teammate at Double-A Binghamton, Mike Jacobs, who is also a catcher, has much more impressive hitting stats but didn't even rate a mention in the Top 20 or in the Others To Watch. How can Huber rate as the No. 4 catching prospect while Jacobs, who is only 1 1/2 years older, doesn't even rate a mention despite leading the Eastern League in slugging (.550)? Is there some hidden flaw in Jacobs' game that I'm not seeing? What's the report on Jacobs?

    Eitan Altman
    San Francisco

    I know Justin Huber always gets the props as being the future Mets catcher and there's nothing wrong with that. But I was wondering why not a word has ever been mentioned about the other catcher at Binghamton, Mike Jacobs. He's just getting better and better. What do you think?

    Chad O'Hara
    Alpine, N.J.

    Why does Mike Jacobs get absolutely no hype? Am I missing something or is Jacobs one of the most underrated prospects in baseball?

    Jason Bernstein
    Livingston, N.J.

Jacobs isn't as good a prospect as Huber—that 21-month age difference is significant—but he hasn't received much attention for his breakout season. A career .270/.329/.413 hitter in his first four seasons after signing as a 38th-round pick from Grossmont (Calif.) JC in 1999, he's hitting .322-17-80 through 115 Double-A games, with a .368 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage. He has more than just a bat, as his arm strength rates as a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale. And at 22, he's not old for his level.

Jacobs still has two questions to answer, however. Can he keep hitting like this? And can he catch? Jacobs has relinquished most of Binghamton's catching duties to Huber, spending most of his time at DH and recently seeing some action at first base. Jacobs has thrown out just 20.6 percent of basestealers this year, one of the worst marks in the EL but better than Huber (17.9 percent).

Josh says he'd like to take a mulligan. If he had the catcher rankings to do over again, he'd put Jacobs at No. 17 between the Twins' Rob Bowen and the Royals' Mike Tonis.

    Eric Beattie was virtually unknown prior to going to the Cape Cod League this summer. He's a tall and lanky 175-pounder who plays at a NCAA Division II school (Tampa). How does he compare to the bigger guys from bigger schools who were on the Cape this year?

    Randy Beattie

I'll go out on a limb and guess that Randy is related to Eric. Beattie was by no means an unknown before he joined the Bourne Braves for the summer. Scouts had him on their follow lists for 2004, and he had led Division II with 15 victories as Tampa, a perennial D-II power, finished second in their College World Series.

Still, his Cape performance was dazzling and somewhat unexpected. He was named league pitcher of the year, posted the second-best ERA in Cape history (0.39) and allowed just two balls to be hit out of the infield while fanning 12 over eight innings in his lone playoff start.

I ranked Beattie 11th on our Cape Top 30 Prospects list, and he could be a first-round pick next year. One scouting director told me Beattie boosted his 2004 draft stock more than any other player on the Cape. The velocity on his fastball jumped from 86-88 to 90-92 mph, and the ball has such heavy life that opponents hit just .142 against him. Both his curveball and command (51 strikeouts, six walks in 46 innings) were among the best on the Cape, and his changeup works well as a third pitch. And at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, he has room for more projection.

Aug. 21, 2003

Even more on major league contracts: When I ran the chart, I forgot to update it with Adam Loewen's draft-and-follow deal with the Orioles in May. Ask BA reader Greg Levine (Blacksburg, Va.) pointed this out, so I've included it and believe this to be the complete list of draftees who received big league deals:

Year   Player, Team (Round)            Bonus     Guarantee
1986   Bo Jackson, KC (4)           $100,000    $1,066,000
1989   Ben McDonald, Bal (1)        $350,000      $824,000
       John Olerud, Tor (3)         $575,000      $800,000
1990   Todd Van Poppel, Oak (1)     $500,000    $1,200,000
1992   Paul Janicki, Cal (1)         $90,000      $215,000
1993   Alex Rodriguez, Sea (1)    $1,000,000    $1,300,000 
1998   Pat Burrell, Phi (1)       $3,150,000    $8,000,000
       J.D. Drew, StL (1)         $3,000,000    $7,000,000
       Chad Hutchinson, StL (2)   $2,300,000    $3,400,000
1999   Josh Beckett, Fla (1)      $3,625,000    $7,000,000
       Eric Munson, Det (1)       $3,500,000    $6,750,000
2000   David Espinosa, Cin (1)          None    $2,950,000
       Dane Sardinha, Cin (2)           None    $1,950,000
       Xavier Nady, SD (2)        $1,100,000    $2,850,000
       Jace Brewer, TB (5)          $450,000    $1,200,000
2001   Mark Prior, ChC (1)        $4,000,000   $10,500,000
       Dewon Brazelton, TB (1)    $4,200,000    $4,800,000
       Mark Teixeira, Tex (1)     $4,500,000    $9,500,000
2002   Adam Loewen, Bal (1)       $3,200,000    $4,020,000
       Jeremy Guthrie, Cle (1)    $3,000,000    $4,000,000
       Jeff Baker, Col (4)          $200,000    $2,000,000
2003   Rickie Weeks, Mil (1)      $3,600,000    $4,800,000

When Delmon Young signs, we'll probably be adding his name to that list as well. The Devil Rays almost certainly will spread his bonus, and it looks like they'll do that with a major league deal rather than concocting a second-sport option.

While I'm in the process of updating lists, John Kovatch of the Akron Beacon Journal pointed out I missed a homestate affiliate in the chart I ran in the last Ask BA. The Indians' low Class A Lake County affiliate is based in Eastlake, Ohio. The South Atlantic League in Ohio? Sounds like someone got lost.

    I'm curious about Cubs righthander Chadd Blasko. He has been putting up very good numbers in Class A and is currently on the Prospect Hot Sheet. What can you tell me about him? What kind of stuff does he have? Do the Cubs consider him a good prospect? Is there any chance he'll get a taste of Double-A by the end of the year?

    Ryan Hall
    Santa Cruz, Calif.

    What do you think of righthanders Chadd Blasko and Ricky Nolasco in the Cubs system? Especially Nolasco, who has pitched very well for the past two years or so. In a deep Cubs system of pitching, where would Chadd Blasko and Ricky Nolasco fit?

    C.J. Keller
    Prattville, Ala.

    I've been following Chadd Blasko's starts at high Class A Daytona this season. Is there any reason why he hasn't been promoted to Double-A yet? What's the scouting report on this kid? What is his ETA and does he project as a No. 1 starter?

    Ted Despotes

Blasko, 22, was a supplemental first-round pick out of Purdue in 2002. He didn't sign until Aug. 31 last year, receiving $1.05 million, so he's making his pro debut this season. Because he has a long arm action, scouts projected him as a reliever, but he's showing that he's more than that. With the Cubs loaded with pitching and Blasko lacking experience, they sent him to low Class A Lansing to start 2003, but it took him just two starts to earn a promotion to Daytona. In 24 starts overall, he's 10-6, 1.91 with a 132-43 strikeout-walk ratio in 141 innings. Opponents are batting just .212 with three homers against him.

Blasko has a classic pitcher's body at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, and he has really improved his secondary pitches and his command. His fastball sits in the low 90s and will pop 96 mph every once in a while, and his slider is his second-best pitch. He backs those offerings with a curveball and changeup, and he also employed a splitter in college. There are few No. 1 starters around. Conservatively, Blasko projects as a No. 3, but if he keeps making this kind of progress, his ceiling will be higher than that.

Nolasco, 20, tends to get lost in the shuffle behind the bigger-name pitchers in the Cubs system. A California high school product taken in the fourth round of the 2001 draft (which the Cubs began by taking Mark Prior and Andy Sisco), Nolasco had two solid years in short-season ball before skipping a level and jumping to Daytona in 2003. He has handled the transition with ease, going 10-5, 2.95 in 24 starts, with a 123-44 K-BB ratio, .230 opponent average and seven homers allowed in 137 innings

At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Nolasco is shorter and sturdier than Blasko. He has similar velocity, pitching in the low 90s, and he also generates nice, late life on his fastball. His curveball is a good second pitch, and he keeps hitters off balance by changing the speeds on it. His changeup has improved.

Because Blasko hadn't pitched in pro ball and Nolasco is so young and getting his first taste of full-season ball, there's no need to push them to Double-A West Tenn in 2003. Both have pitched themselves into the second tier of Cubs pitching prospects behind Angel Guzman and Sisco.

    The consensus is that the Double-A Texas League and, in particular, Midland are home run havens. And that Dan Johnson, like Adam Piatt and Jason Hart before him, may be an overrated Athletics hitting prospect because his statistics are inflated. I was going to ask if Oakland should consider moving its Double-A franchise because of this, but I checked the statistics and saw that Midland and most of the teams in the league aren't even averaging a homer per game. Is that a statement on the lack of power in the league, the overall quality of the pitching or that perhaps a re-evaluation of the TL as a home run league is needed?

    Dale Carriger
    San Francisco

Midland's old Christensen Stadium was a boon for homers, but its new home, First American Bank Ballpark, hasn't been as kind to hitters since opening in 2002. Christensen was listed as 398 feet to center field, but TL president Tom Kayser says that when the club measured it toward the end, it learned the distance was closer to 380. FABB is 410 to center. Another huge difference is that the wind always seemed to be howling out of Christensen, and it blows in from right field or from right to left at the FABB.

I don't have the home/road breakdowns, but we can take a look at the homers per game hit by Midland and its opponents over the last six years, as well as the overall league average.

Year   Home Park     HR/G   TL HR/G
1998   Christensen   2.14      1.90
1999   Christensen   2.17      1.74
2000   Christensen   1.73      1.70
2001   Christensen   1.83      1.58
2002   FABB          1.39      1.30
2003   FABB          1.21      1.36

Both Midland and the Texas League have seen marked decreases in homers per game, so a re-evaluation of both is in order. Four of the TL's eight 1998 franchises still play in the same stadiums and configurations as they did then. You know about Midland. Wichita still uses Lawrence-Dumont Stadium but eliminated a short right-field porch when it reconfigured in 2001 to match the dimensions of the parent Royals' Kauffman Stadium. There have been two franchise shifts—Jackson (a home run park) to Round Rock in 2000, and Shreveport (not a home run park) to Frisco this year. The TL has used Rawlings baseballs throughout this period.

Johnson has legitimate power and he's not being helped by the FABB. He's hitting .295-26-107 with a .520 slugging percentage overall, which breaks down as .337-9-50 with a .523 SLG in 62 road games and .255-17-57 with a .518 SLG in 66 road contests. A seventh-round draft pick from the University of Nebraska in 2001, Johnson is 24 and a one-dimensional first baseman. But his pop and eye at the plate (62 walks for a .368 on-base percentage) are valued by the A's, who may give him a shot in the next couple of years.

    The Pirates just traded Randall Simon for Ray Sadler. Simon is no great loss to the Bucs because they have better options at first base. Getting Sadler puzzles me though. They now have 10 center fielders in their system with the same skill set: Tike Redman in Pittsburgh, Tony Alvarez and Rich Thompson in Triple-A Nashville, Chris Duffy and Ray Sadler at Double-A Altoona, Vic Buttler and Nate McLouth at high Class A Lynchburg, Rajai Davis and Chaz Lytle at low Class A Hickory, and Nyjer Morgan at short-season Williamsport. About half of them have been on BA's annual Pirates Top 30 Prospects list, usually in the lower half. Which of these guys is most likely to have the job five years from now?

    Jim Sconing
    Iowa City

Those guys are very similar. My two favorites are Alvarez and McLouth, with Sadler the sleeper. Alvarez, 24, is the closest thing to a first-division center fielder in the Pirates system. He's hitting .292/.356/.462 with 17 steals and has improved his patience, though he still needs to draw more walks. He has had hamstring problems this year and was suspended for a week for undisclosed personal-conduct issues, but I'm still surprised the Pirates haven't called him up to see what he could do with major league playing time.

McLouth isn't as solid a center fielder but he has more upside with the bat. He's hitting .303/.390/.415 with 39 steals in 43 attempts. While he's repeating high Class A, at 21 he's still the only player that Jim mentioned who's young for his level. McLouth should have more power as he fills out, though he'll still be more of a line-drive hitter. Sadler, 22, has good speed and a little pop. He's batting .292/.347/.436 in Double-A.

Aug. 15, 2003

More on major league contracts: When Will Kimmey was working on his excellent Tim Stauffer story today, he discovered the 21st such deal in the draft era. UCLA righthander Pete Janicki, who hurt his elbow shortly after the Angels took him in 1992's first round, settled for a $90,000 bonus and a three-year deal with a guarantee of $215,000. I'll re-run the entire list from two Ask BAs ago, with Janicki added.

Year   Player, Team (Round)            Bonus     Guarantee
1986   Bo Jackson, KC (4)           $100,000    $1,066,000
1989   Ben McDonald, Bal (1)        $350,000      $824,000
       John Olerud, Tor (3)         $575,000      $800,000
1990   Todd Van Poppel, Oak (1)     $500,000    $1,200,000
1992   Pete Janicki, Cal (1)         $90,000      $215,000
1993   Alex Rodriguez, Sea (1)    $1,000,000    $1,300,000 
1998   Pat Burrell, Phi (1)       $3,150,000    $8,000,000
       J.D. Drew, StL (1)         $3,000,000    $7,000,000
       Chad Hutchinson, StL (2)   $2,300,000    $3,400,000
1999   Josh Beckett, Fla (1)      $3,625,000    $7,000,000
       Eric Munson, Det (1)       $3,500,000    $6,750,000
2000   David Espinosa, Cin (1)          None    $2,950,000
       Dane Sardinha, Cin (2)           None    $1,950,000
       Xavier Nady, SD (2)        $1,100,000    $2,850,000
       Jace Brewer, TB (5)          $450,000    $1,200,000
2001   Mark Prior, ChC (1)        $4,000,000   $10,500,000
       Dewon Brazelton, TB (1)    $4,200,000    $4,800,000
       Mark Teixeira, Tex (1)     $4,500,000    $9,500,000
2002   Jeremy Guthrie, Cle (1)    $3,000,000    $4,000,000
       Jeff Baker, Col (4)          $200,000    $2,000,000
2003   Rickie Weeks, Mil (1)      $3,600,000    $4,800,000

Kudos to Stauffer, who felt unusual soreness in his shoulder after pitching for Richmond in the NCAA playoffs. An MRI revealed weakness in his shoulder joint, and he came clean with the Padres, who drafted him fourth overall. It cost him financially, as his $750,000 bonus was $2.05 million less than Major League Baseball's recommendation for his slot. Hard not to root for a guy with that kind of integrity.

    Jeremy Reed is absolutely tearing it up this season. He played very well at high Class A and has been even better at Double-A. .400? That's just ridiculous. How would you rate him as a prospect? What is his potential? He seems to be a five-tool player, with more power coming as his doubles might indicate. Is he currently the No. 1 prospect in the White Sox organization?

    Mike Mahoney
    Montpelier, Vt.

What's ridiculous is that the scouting director who drafted Reed and several other top White Sox prospects, Doug Laumann, has been reassigned by the club. But I digress. Reed is Chicago's top prospect over pitchers such as lefty Neal Cotts and righty Kris Honel. In his first full season since the White Sox took him in 2002's second round out of Long Beach State, Reed has hit .364/.444/.528 in 115 games between the two levels. He also has an unbelievable 33-61 strikeout-walk ratio and 40 steals in 56 attempts.

I wouldn't label him a five-tool player. He's an advanced hitter but I don't see him as a big power guy. He has 30 doubles and 11 homers, and most scouts would project him as a 15-homer hitter, maybe 20. Reed does squeeze every ounce out of his ability, and those guys do tend to overachieve. He's a plus runner but not a blazer, yet he's a stolen-base threat. He's not a pure center fielder, but makes his share of plays when he's stationed there.

With Carl Everett approaching free agency, Reed could break camp next year as Chicago's leadoff man and center fielder. I'd certainly give him that opportunity.

    How concerned are you with 2002's No. 1 overall pick, Bryan Bullington, struggling since his promotion to the high Class A Carolina League? Can it be attributed to decreased velocity? What do you see happening with him for the remainder of this season and in 2004? Also, will the Braves be using Triple-A pitchers Bubba Nelson or Andy Pratt any time this season?

    Ryan McTague

I'm not concerned about Bullington yet. While he's pitching in the high-80s with a so-so slider, compared to the mid-90s heat and sharp breaking ball he showed as a Ball State junior last year, he's also pitching on four days' rest for the first time in his career. He signed in October 2002, so he never got a chance to get acclimated to the rigors of pro ball before this season.

I'm actually impressed that Bullington has succeeded in high Class A without his best stuff. His 3.22 ERA would rank ninth in the Carolina League if he had enough innings to qualify. While he hasn't been dominant, his 58-24 K-BB ratio, five homers allowed and .258 opponent average in 78 innings indicate that he's not exactly struggling. His situation reminds me of what happened to Scott Elarton (a high school rather than college pick) when the Astros drafted him out of high school in 1994. Elarton saw his velocity dip for a while but learned how to pitch. Then his stuff came back and he was on his way to becoming a dominant big leaguer before Houston ran him into the ground.

How Bullington fares next year in Double-A, in terms of both statistics and stuff, will tell us more than his current radar-gun readings.

As for Nelson and Pratt, there's a good chance both will be up with Atlanta in September. Nelson was thriving as a Double-A starter before he was suddenly moved to the bullpen and then up to Triple-A. That doesn't make much sense unless the Braves plan to use him as big league reliever in the short term. Pratt already is on the 40-man roster, so his September callup is more of a given. The Braves have been looking for lefthanded bullpen help, and even after the Kent Mercker trade they could use more another southpaw like Pratt.

    Yesterday, the Brewers had their low Class A Beloit affiliate play a Midwest League game at Miller Park. Why don't more teams do that? You'd think they'd want to get the minor leaguers the experience of playing in big league conditions and get a look at the nuances of their future home park.

    Bruce Norlander

This was a good idea for the Brewers, who were surprised when 14,147 fans showed up to see the club's top two picks in the 2003 draft, Rickie Weeks and Anthony Gwynn, plus 2002 first-rounder Prince Fielder. Those guys represent a bigger chunk of the franchise's future than almost anyone on the current big league club.

It would make sense for other teams to incorporate the same idea. It's a neat way to bring fans to the ballpark for below major league ticket prices and show them some of the organization's prospects. With that in mind, I put together a list of big league clubs who have a full-season affiliate in their home state. I realize I ignored some interstate possibilities, like the Red Sox and Triple-A Pawtucket, but I didn't want to spend hours consulting my road atlas.

Anaheim         Rancho Cucamonga (CAL)
Arizona         Tucson (PCL)
Atlanta         Rome (SAL)
Baltimore       Bowie (EL), Frederick (CL), Delmarva (SAL)
Cincinnati      Dayton (MWL)
Cleveland       Akron (EL)
Colorado        Colorado Springs (PCL)
Detroit         West Michigan (MWL)
Florida         Jupiter (FSL)
Houston         Round Rock (TL)
Milwaukee       Beloit (MWL)
New York (NL)   Binghamton (EL)
Oakland         Sacramento (PCL), Modesto (CAL)
Philadelphia    Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (IL), Reading (EL)
Pittsburgh      Altoona (EL)
San Diego       Lake Elsinore (CAL)
San Francisco   Fresno (PCL), San Jose (CAL)
Seattle         Tacoma (PCL)
Tampa Bay       Orlando (SL)
Texas           Frisco (TL)
How about Altoona and Reading playing annual home-and-home contests at Citizens Bank Park and PNC Park? Or four home-and-home contests between Network Associates Coliseum and Pacific Bell Park, two matchups each of Fresno vs. Sacramento and Modesto vs. San Jose?

Aug. 13, 2003

When I discussed major league contracts for draftees in the last Ask BA, I left out a significant benefit to the player. Here's what someone who works for a sports-management firm (we'll keep him anonymous) wrote me:

    One more thing to point out as an advantage for the player if he can get to the majors on pace with his contract: future compensation after his first contract expires.

    Both Josh Beckett's and Eric Munson's contracts out of the 1999 draft expired at the end of the 2002 season. Going into 2003 season, Beckett had one year and 30 days of major league service time, while Munson had 0+52. Normally, with that service time, Beckett would be paid about $325,000 while Munson would get about $310,000. (Tampa Bay paid every player who wasn't eligible for arbitration $300,000, so it all depends on the team.) Beckett and Munson, however, are different.

    Beckett in 2002 made the equivalent of $2,156,250 ($1.25 million base salary plus his $3.625 million signing bonus prorated over four years, which is $906,250). Major league teams only are allowed to give a maximum pay cut of 20 percent, so as a 1+30 in 2003, Beckett is making $1.725 million. Munson earned the equivalent of $2.125 million in 2002 ($1.25 million base plus his $3.5 million prorated signing bonus, which equaled $875,000). Munson is earning $1.7 million in 2003 as a 0+52. Even if the Tigers cut him the max 20 percent every year before arbitration, he still will earn $5.398 million in base salaries during his four years before arbitration. The normal player probably makes just above $1 million.

    Those contracts are golden as long as the player can produce at the major league level. One thing that will be affected will be the salaries he'll get in arbitration. One of the points in arbitration is how well the player has been paid in the past. Obviously, Beckett and Munson won't be able to relate themselves to the usual comparables because of all of the money they already will have earned. It will be interesting to see how each side handles arbitration if it gets that far.

Also in the last edition of Ask BA, I provided an updated Rangers Top 10 Prospects list. Predictably, I received several e-mails from fans of other teams who wanted to know how their farm systems stack up. Please understand that I can't break down every team, though I'll take a crack at another below.

    I know that once again this season, as in the last few years, the Yankees have traded some of their best prospects. Now that two-thirds of the season is over, how would you rate their minor league talent and who would be on their Top 10 Prospects list?

    Mitchell Cohen
    East Brunswick, N.J.

BA prospect maven Josh Boyd did a lot of the legwork on the list below, though I've tweaked the order to reflect my thoughts. So if you have any complaints, address them to me. I hadn't realized before trying to put the Top 10 together how thin the Yankees system had become. They have one prospect who's having a huge year, and he's No. 1 on the list. Otherwise the Top 10 consists of young players who haven't done much yet and older guys who have hit the wall. Here we go:

1. Dioner Navarro, c (age 19 at midseason)
All-around catcher is hitting .362 as teenager in Double-A
2. Robinson Cano, 2b (20)
May supplant Drew Henson as Yanks' future third baseman
3. Rudy Guillen, of (19)
Figuring out how to use his impact tools
4. Bronson Sardinha, of (20)
Like last year, got going offensively after a demotion
5. Chien-Ming Wang, rhp (23)
Threw in mid-90s early, but not missing bats right now
6. Jorge DePaula (24)
Has good fastball/slider combo, still looking for third pitch
7. Eric Duncan, 3b (18)
First-round pick was one of best high school hitters in 2003 draft
8. Erick Almonte, ss (25)
Did a passable job filling in for Derek Jeter in April and May
9. Yhency Brazoban, rhp (23)
Converted outfielder can reach 100 mph but still learning
10. Sean Henn, lhp (24)
$1.701 million draft-and-follow hit 99 mph before Tommy John surgery

    What do you make of Josh Karp's progress this year at Double-A Harrisburg? I have seen him start several times this season and even when he has pitched well, he has wasted many pitches and gone deep into counts. That has resulted in many starts ending after five or six innings due to fatigue and high pitch counts. While the local media is quick to point out that he has lacked run support of late, his ERA is still 5.35—hardly the stuff of a "hard-luck" pitcher. Is it too soon to tell what Karp's future holds, or is this perhaps a sign of things to come?

    Matt Kerr
    Biglerville, Pa.

It hasn't been a good year for the 23-year-old righthander, who was drafted sixth overall in 2002. Karp missed most of April with strep throat, and his ERA has risen each month: 0.00 in April, 3.77 in May, 5.28 in June, 6.03 in July and 13.50 in August. He's just not missing bats, with a 62-42 strikeout-walk ratio in 104 innings and a .273 opponent average. He hasn't won since May 30 and dropped to 3-9 when he gave up five runs in two-thirds of an inning on Monday. Karp has lost his seven starts.

When he's at his best, Karp will throw three plus pitches: a lively low-90s fastball, a curveball and a changeup. But his stuff hasn't been as crisp in 2003 as it has been in the past, and even with that quality arsenal he never was a big winner at UCLA. He had better numbers across the board in his 16 Double-A starts last year (7-5, 3.84, 69-34 K-BB in 87 IP, .256 opponent average), so he obviously has regressed. There's plenty of opportunity to move up the ladder to Montreal, but Karp doesn't look to make that climb anytime soon.

    With Troy Glaus hurt, the Angels have moved Scott Spiezio to third base and played Robb Quinlan at first. Spiezio recently said he wanted to test free agency after this season, which makes me believe that Quinlan will be Anaheim's first baseman next year. So I was wondering what you could tell me about Quinlan and his potential. Does he have the talent to hit for power and average, and will he be there until Casey Kotchman comes up?

    Tyler Maddy
    Williamsport, Pa.

Quinlan hit well as an amateur with aluminum bats (University of Minnesota) and with wood (Northwoods League), and has hit well at every stop in the minors since signing as a 10th-round pick in 1999. But he had a hard time getting taken seriously as a prospect until last year, when he hit .333/.376/.555 to win Triple-A Pacific Coast League MVP honors. That still didn't earn him a spot on the big league roster to start 2003, so he went back to Salt Lake and hit .310/.352/.445 until Glaus injured his throwing shoulder.

Like Bo Hart with the Cardinals, Quinlan has seized his opportunity, batting .333/.391/.431 in his first 15 big league games. Building that kind of positive momentum can have a major effect on future opportunities in the bigs for a player who hasn't been a darling of scouts. If he finishes well, the Angels could use him as a cost-effective option at first base until Kotchman is ready.

Quinlan won't be a star—he's already 26—but he could hit .280 with 30 doubles and 15-20 homers and getting on base at an acceptable rate. He doesn't have much speed or arm strength, so he's just a marginal outfielder and best suited for first base.

Aug. 9, 2003

Random Observation Dept.: Two big league clubs have multiple BA College Players of the Year on active big league rosters—the Red Sox (David McCarty, 1991; Jason Varitek, 1994) and the Rockies (Todd Helton, 1995; Jason Jennings, 1999). The Padres can join the club if they call up Khalil Greene (2002) to join Phil Nevin (1992).

    In your annual preseason organization talent rankings, the Rangers were at No. 19, a dramatic (albeit justifiable) dropoff from where they stood over the previous five years. With the influx of talent in trades and the 2003 draft, do you feel that Texas has made significant strides in replenishing its system? Also, which of the newcomers might break into an updated Rangers Top 10 Prospects list?

    Michael Willoughby
    North Richland Hills, Texas

The Rangers farm system definitely has gotten a boost since the season began. In the last Ask BA, I wrote, " Texas has added more quality talent than any team during the trading frenzy." and put five new Rangers on my list of the 15 best trade acquisitions. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez (from the Marlins for Ugueth Urbina), righthanders Ricardo Rodriguez (Indians for Ryan Ludwick) and Josh Rupe (White Sox for Carl Everett), and outfielders Anthony Webster (Everett) and Will Smith (Urbina) all made my Top 15 list of prospects picked up in deals. Lefthander Ryan Snare (Urbina) and righty Franklin Francisco (Everett) also drew consideration.

In the draft, the Rangers started off with the consensus best lefthander available, getting Texas high schooler John Danks with the No. 9 pick. In the second round, they landed one of the best pure hitters available in Rice first baseman Vince Sinisi. Sinisi fell that far strictly because of his price tag, but the Rangers should officially announce his signing for a reported $2.075 million early next week. Third-rounder John Hudgins, a crafty Stanford righthander, was MVP of the College World Series. Several later picks are also off to good starts, including Cal State Fullerton righty Wes Littleton (fourth round), Texas A&M righty Matt Farnum (seventh) and University of North Carolina outfielder Jeremy Cleveland (eighth).

Here's my guess at what the Top 10 might look like this offseason. I'm not including Laynce Nix, who has yet to exceed the rookie limit of 130 at-bats but certainly will by season's end. He'd rank No. 1 otherwise.

1. Jose Dominguez, rhp (age 20 at midseason)
Already has mastered fastball and changeup, just needs a slider
2. Ramon Nivar, of/2b (22)
Speedster might not qualify for list if he sticks as Texas' center fielder
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1b (21)
2000's No. 1 overall pick has had off year after December wrist surgery
4. John Danks, lhp (18)
When Grady Fuson takes a prepster ninth overall, he must be good
5. Vince Sinisi, 1b/of (21)
Similar hitter to Gonzalez and should be able to handle left field
6. Jason Bourgeois, 2b (21)
Increased OBP allows him to take advantage of his plus speed
7. Drew Meyer, ss (21)
Won't take A-Rod's job, but he's athletic and making strides at plate
8. Josh Rupe, rhp (20)
When he's on, he touches 94 mph and shows a devastating curve
9. Anthony Webster, of (20)
Very raw but also very talented, he's a potential Marquis Grissom
10. Ben Kozlowski, lhp (22)
Made quantum leap in 2002 but needed Tommy John surgery in 2003

You'll notice that half of the 10 players weren't with the organization in April.

It's almost too close to call, but there's no place for equivocating here at Ask BA. Blackley just doesn't have the pure stuff that the other three do, so despite his fine performance this year I can't see putting him in the group with the others.

Kazmir was the first lefty on our 2003 Top 100 Prospects, coming in at No. 11. He'd still come out ahead for me, despite the fact that Hamels may have the most spectacular statistics in the minors and that Miller is the first of the three to reach Double-A (where he hasn't allowed a run in his first 14 innings). Kazmir throws a little harder and has a better breaking ball than Hamels and Miller, though he isn't advanced. Strong arguments can be made for Hamels and Miller, but I'll still go with Kazmir.

    I don't understand the significance or advantage of giving a drafted player a major league contract. I was just reading about Rickie Weeks signing with the Brewers. I would appreciate if you could explain the difference to the major league contract Weeks signed versus a standard contract a drafted player usually would sign.

    Howard Perlman
    Franklin, Mich.

From a monetary standpoint, both the player and team usually can claim a victory with a major league contract. The player can point to the total value of the deal, which in Weeks' case was a minimum of $4.8 million, the biggest guarantee in the last two drafts. The straight bonus was $3.6 million, just $100,000 more than Major League Baseball recommended for Weeks' No. 2 slot. Essentially, a player with a major league contract gets more money but it's spread over more years.

A major league contract also necessitates that a team will run out of optional assignments on a player more quickly than it would with a standard contract. Again, let's use Weeks as an example. Because he was placed on the 40-man roster because of his deal, his option clock immediately started ticking. The Brewers used one option to send him to the Rookie-level Arizona League, and have more options to send him down (as many times as they want) in the 2004-06 seasons. Once they run out of options, he can't be sent back to the minors without clearing waivers. That would first become an issue with Weeks in 2007, though he's expected to arrive well ahead of that.

If Weeks hadn't signed a big league contract, he wouldn't have had to be placed on the 40-man roster until after the 2005 season. The Brewers would have three optional assignments in this scenario rather than four, but he'd still have until 2009 to get to the majors without having to face waivers.

Weeks became the 20th draftee to get a big league deal since the draft started in 1965. Here's the complete list:

Year   Player, Team (Round)            Bonus     Guarantee
1986   Bo Jackson, KC (4)           $100,000    $1,066,000
1989   Ben McDonald, Bal (1)        $350,000      $824,000
       John Olerud, Tor (3)         $575,000      $800,000
1990   Todd Van Poppel, Oak (1)     $500,000    $1,200,000
1993   Alex Rodriguez, Sea (1)    $1,000,000    $1,300,000 
1998   Pat Burrell, Phi (1)       $3,150,000    $8,000,000
       J.D. Drew, StL (1)         $3,000,000    $7,000,000
       Chad Hutchinson, StL (2)   $2,300,000    $3,400,000
1999   Josh Beckett, Fla (1)      $3,625,000    $7,000,000
       Eric Munson, Det (1)       $3,500,000    $6,750,000
2000   David Espinosa, Cin (1)          None    $2,950,000
       Dane Sardinha, Cin (2)           None    $1,950,000
       Xavier Nady, SD (2)        $1,100,000    $2,850,000
       Jace Brewer, TB (5)          $450,000    $1,200,000
2001   Mark Prior, ChC (1)        $4,000,000   $10,500,000
       Dewon Brazelton, TB (1)    $4,200,000    $4,800,000
       Mark Teixeira, Tex (1)     $4,500,000    $9,500,000
2002   Jeremy Guthrie, Cle (1)    $3,000,000    $4,000,000
       Jeff Baker, Col (4)          $200,000    $2,000,000
2003   Rickie Weeks, Mil (1)      $3,600,000    $4,800,000

A major league contract also can be helpful when a club that doesn't has little or no money to pay a player up front (as in the cases of Espinosa, Sardinha or Brazelton) or as an enticement to persuade a player to sign (Hutchinson, Brewer). Just four of these 20 players were high school picks, and while Alex Rodriguez and Josh Beckett survived the rushed timetable, it adversely affected Todd Van Poppel and David Espinosa. Espinosa, who's now with the Tigers after getting traded for Brian Moehler in July 2002, already has cleared waivers ahead of schedule. He won't be out of options until next year, but the Tigers designated him for assignment July 17 to clear a 40-man roster spot for Danny Patterson.

Aug. 6, 2003

We're going to go in a different direction with Ask BA today. I'll hijack my own column by hogging all the questions for myself.

    How come the latest issue of Baseball America didn't contain your annual analysis of the best prospects involved in the midsummer flurry of trades? You did a column on that topic in 2001 and 2002.

    Jim Callis
    Winnetka, Ill.

The deadline for trades without waivers was the usual July 31, and this year the deadline for getting my column in that issue was July 30. So though the final day of July often engenders more anticipation than significant transactions, the timing made putting that column in the issue an impossibility.

    OK, so who were the best prospects involved in the midsummer flurry of trades? Trade Central breaks down all the deals, but please put them in perspective.

    Jim Callis
    Winnetka, Ill.

The crop isn't as impressive as it was last year, when Brandon Phillips, Carlos Pena and Jeremy Bonderman ranked 1-2-3 on my list. I'm considering everyone who's not an established big leaguer, and the top guy would slot in behind that trio. Here's my Top 15:

1. Kurt Ainsworth, rhp, Orioles (age 24 at midseason). The Sidney Ponson trade could turn out to be a coup for the Giants, if they can keep him as a free agent and he continues on the Jason Schmidt career path. But Baltimore also got good value for a pitcher it probably couldn't have re-signed. Ainsworth was just getting settled in the majors before going down with a fracture on his scapula in late May. The injury isn't considered serious for the long term, and he should be back next year with a five-pitch mix that includes a 92-94 mph four-seam fastball and 90-mph sinker.

2. Freddy Sanchez, ss/2b, Pirates (25). I don't think the Red Sox wanted to deal Sanchez, but giving him up allowed them to end the imbroglio over Brandon Lyon's elbow as well as acquire a much-needed starting pitcher in Jeff Suppan. Pirates fans haven't been treated to an offensive middle infielder recently, as they've had to endure the likes of Mike Benjamin, Pat Meares, Pokey Reese and Jack Wilson. Sanchez will change that, as he smokes line drives and has good gap power for his position. Whether that position is shortstop or second base in the long run remains to be seen, but he'll give Pittsburgh an upgrade at either position. The consensus among scouts is that he lacks shortstop range and has no better than an average arm, but Sanchez has overachieved throughout his pro career.

3. Brandon Claussen, lhp, Yankees (24). Claussen isn't blowing away hitters like he did in 2001, when he led the minors with 220 strikeouts, but the fact that he returned to the mound less than a year after having Tommy John surgery in June 2002 may be more impressive. His 90-92 mph fastball and tough slider are back, even if he's not yet finishing off hitters like he did in the past. New York may rue giving up its top pitching prospect to get Aaron Boone, who's not a huge upgrade over Robin Ventura.

4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1b, Rangers (21). Three years after selecting him No. 1 overall in the lackluster 2000 draft, the Marlins gave him up to get Ugueth Urbina—whom they're using as a setup man. Gonzalez hasn't hit the ball with much authority in 2003, though that's largely attributable to December surgery to repair torn cartilage in his wrist. His power ceiling is uncertain, but he's an advanced hitter who has been compared to a young Rafael Palmeiro and he's one of the youngest players in the upper minors. Over the next couple of years, we'll get to see how Texas tries to shoehorn Gonzalez, Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira into the same lineup.

5. Ryan Ludwick, of, Indians (24). The Rangers have an obvious imbalance between their hitting and pitching, so trading Ludwick to Cleveland for Ricardo Rodriguez made sense, even if Ludwick is a safer bet. Derailed by a career-threatening hip injury last year, he has returned and showed that he has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. With power and decent plate discipline, he could become one of the Indians' mainstays as they reconstruct their lineup. He also has the defensive ability and strong arm to be a top-notch right fielder.

6. Ricardo Rodriguez, rhp, Rangers (25). Is anyone else surprised that Rodriguez is already 25? Though he has an electric arm with a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider, he didn't fool many big league hitters this year, going 3-9, 5.73 with 41 strikeouts in 82 innings before being lost for the year with a torn labrum in his right hip. That said, Texas still needs plenty of arms and Rodriguez was worth taking a chance on.

7. Ryan Hannaman, lhp, Orioles (21). Converted to a full-time pitcher after the Giants drafted him in the fourth round in 2000, Hannaman has dazzling raw potential. He has power stuff with a lively mid-90s fastball and hard slider. Hannaman made rapid progress last year but has been slowed in 2003 by a strained biceps. Add in Damian Moss, and Baltimore may have gotten 60 percent of its future rotation by trading Ponson.

8. Royce Ring, lhp, Mets (22). The key player for New York in the Roberto Alomar trade, Ring has moved rapidly since the White Sox drafted him 16th overall in 2002. He has had little difficulty in Double-A, thanks to his dancing low-90s fastball and his curveball. He could be the Mets' closer of the future, and at worst a late-inning lefty setup man.

9. Victor Diaz, 2b, Mets (21). Joselo Diaz and Kole Strayhorn are intriguing righthanders, but this Diaz is the best of the three-player package New York received from the Dodgers for Jeromy Burnitz. He won batting titles in his first two pro seasons and has continued to spray line drives with gap power in Double-A. Diaz needs to find a position, however, because he's shaky at second base and didn't look good at third in 2003.

10. Josh Rupe, rhp, Rangers (20). Texas has added more quality talent than any team during the trading frenzy. Fairly anonymous for a third-round pick (2002), Rupe hasn't disappointed since the Rangers plucked him from the White Sox in the Carl Everett trade. He's still learning his mechanics and command, but he has a 90-94 mph fastball and a curveball that's devastating when it's on.

11. Phil Dumatrait, lhp, Reds (21). To bolster their bullpen with Scott Williamson, the Red Sox parted with two quality lefties in Dumatrait and Tyler Pelland (who has yet to be officially named as the second player). Dumatrait, a 2000 first-round pick, supplements a dandy curveball with a solid average fastball. His command has slipped this year, and he'll need to regain it to succeed at higher levels.

12. Anthony Webster, of, Rangers (20). Webster could have been a Southeastern Conference running back had he not chosen to pursue baseball, where scouts see a lot of Marquis Grissom in him. He's still raw and learning the game, but he has speed and power potential. With Rupe, Webster and hard-throwing righty Franklin Francisco, Texas got quite a haul for Everett.

13. Will Smith, of, Rangers (21) Part of the Urbina trade with Gonzalez, Smith also has seen his power muted in 2003 because of wrist problems. He broke his hamate bone in April and hasn't been at his best. Using one of the more unorthodox stances in the minors, he has slugged his way to Double-A at age 21. Smith's bat will have to carry him, and in the past he has shown that it can.

14. Joe Valentine, rhp, Reds (23). Part of the Keith Foulke/Billy Koch trade last December, Valentine figured to eventually take his turn in Oakland's revolving door at closer. That won't happen now that the Athletics made him the best of an unremarkable trio of players they exchanged for Jose Guillen. Valentine led the minors with 36 saves last year, when he hit 96 mph and flashed an untouchable slider, but the quality and consistency of his pitches hasn't been as good in 2003.

15. Anderson Garcia, rhp, Mets (22). The Yankees gave up three righthanders for Armando Benitez, then sent him packing after just nine games in pinstripes. They may miss Garcia the most, because he has hit 96 mph often in low Class A this year. He's a project who's still searching for command and a breaking ball. If he finds them, he could be a starter; if not, a power reliever.

    Who are the sleepers who didn't make that list?

    Jim Callis
    Winnetka, Ill.

Glad you asked. I toyed with putting Rangers lefthander Ryan Snare (24)—the third player Florida gave up for Urbina—on the end of the list. He's fearless and has a plus curveball, but he has produced just so-so results in Triple-A. He's a cinch to reach the majors, moreso than several of the players on the list, but I don't see him as more than a middle reliever.

Bobby Hill (25) is rumored to be the player to be named later for the Pirates in the trade that sent Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton to the Cubs. I didn't include him above because that's not official, but as I wrote a couple of times in the July editions of Ask BA, I still like his chances to be an offensive catalyst from the top of a lineup. He and Sanchez would really juice up Pittsburgh's middle infield, and I would have slotted him behind Gonzalez if we knew Hill was definitely in the deal.

There are three pitchers who won't be stars and get next to no notice, but they could be effective big league middle relievers if given the chance. Righthander Scott Dunn (25) was dealt twice in three weeks, by the Reds to the White Sox for D'Angelo Jimenez and then to the Angels in the Scott Schoeneweis trade. Dunn has a low-90s fastball and consistently has missed bats as a pro. Righty Scott Proctor (26), sent by the Dodgers to the Yankees to get Ventura, has seen his fastball shoot from 89-91 mph to 96-99 since moving to the bullpen. Lefthander Frank Brooks (24), the price the Pirates charged the Phillies for "all-star" Mike Williams, is deceptive and has solid average stuff.

Aug. 1, 2003

Before we get to the questions, it's time for a quick refresher course in Ask BA etiquette. Remember, you need to provide your complete name and hometown with your question if you want me to think about answering it. And while it might seem cute to go on a message board and get a bunch of your friends to inundate me with queries about a certain National League pitching prospect, I'm not going to reply when that happens.

    Why would the Yankees trade their best pitching prospect, Brandon Claussen, for Aaron Boone, who's an upgrade over Robin Ventura but isn't really an impact player? I just think Claussen has a much higher ceiling than Boone. This looks like Eric Milton for Chuck Knoblauch all over again.

    Noel Hirsch
    Hartsdale, N.Y.

The main reason the Yankees made that move is that they were desperate to do something, or at least owner George Steinbrenner was. The Red Sox beat the Yankees in a head-to-head series the previous weekend, then went out and made a huge upgrade by adding Scott Williamson to their pitching staff. Steinbrenner wasn't going to take all of that lightly. If the Yankees fade even slightly down the stretch, they could miss the playoffs with the Red Sox winning the American League East and either the Athletics or Mariners winning the wild card.

Noel is right. Boone is better than Ventura and he's a solid player. Though he ranks eighth among big league third baseman with a .808 on-base plus slugging percentage, however, it's hard to envision him making a big difference. Still, to get him the Yankees had to give something up, and that something turned out to be $1 million in cash, plus Claussen and high Class A lefthander Charlie Manning.

Claussen does have a high ceiling and has made a remarkable recovery from Tommy John surgery in June 2002. But also bear in mind that though he has gotten back his 90-92 mph fastball and tough slider—the pitches that enabled him to lead the minors with 220 strikeouts in 2001—he's not striking out guys in Triple-A. He had just 39 whiffs in 69 innings at Columbus, which means he's not all the way back yet. He could become a No. 2 starter in the majors, but he's not there yet.

While the Yankees might like to have Milton back, he also has a career 4.80 ERA. Knoblauch may have disintegrated before he left New York, but he helped the club win three straight World Series and four consecutive pennants before he departed. The Yankees would love for the Boone trade to work out in anywhere close to the same fashion.

    How can anyone believe that the Red Sox gave up anything close to fair compensation for Jeff Suppan and Scott Sauerbeck? If you look at the timeline and the players involved, it shakes out like this: Suppan for Freddy Sanchez and cash, which seems fair considering how well Suppan has pitched and how badly the Red Sox needed another starting pitcher, but also Sauerbeck for nothing. All of the players involved in that deal went back to their original teams except Sauerbeck. Pirates fans should be livid.

    John Jackson

You have to look at the two trades as one, because of the dispute that arose over the condition of Brandon Lyon's elbow. The Red Sox wouldn't necessarily have given up Sanchez in a deal for Suppan. I think they paid a little bit more than they wanted and reversed the other players in the Sauerbeck trade to end the controversy over Lyon. So combine the two transactions, and Boston got Suppan and Sauerbeck for Sanchez and cash. Pittsburgh didn't get to keep Lyon, but his market value was at its peak anyway. The Pirates also got Mike Gonzalez back for Anastacio Martinez, so they came out ahead there.

The net result is better than the first trade, in which the Red Sox may have gotten the two best players involved in Sauerbeck and Gonzalez. Few deals are truly equitable these days, because most of the time they consist of one team looking for talent and one team looking to shed salary. That's what these two transactions were all about. Sanchez can be part of the future for the Pirates, while Sauerbeck and Suppan weren't going to be.

    In a new dimension in the fierce Yankees-Mets rivalry, which team now has the better quarterback: the Yankees with third baseman Drew Henson or the Mets with outfielder Kenny Kelly?

    Bill Lipton
    New Canaan, Conn.

That rivalry has been one-sided since interleague play began in 1997, with the Yankees winning 24 of 36 regular-season matchups and four of five games in the 2000 World Series. They win this aspect handily as well, as Henson is a much better quarterback than Kelly, who was acquired in the Rey Sanchez trade with the Mariners three days ago.

Both were top national recruits coming out of high school and spent just one year as a college starter before committing full-time to baseball. Henson sat for two years behind future Super Bowl hero Tom Brady before leading Michigan to a Citrus Bowl win as a junior. Kelly played behind Scott Covington as a redshirt freshman at Miami, then started as a sophomore before he sprained his left knee and left an opening for Ken Dorsey. Here are their career stats:

         Att   Comp    Pct    Yds   Yds/Att   TD   Int   Rush TD
Henson   374    214   57.2   2946      7.88   24     7         4
Kelly    318    173   54.4   2473      7.78   21    16         2

Kelly is a better athlete, though Henson is no slouch and comes out ahead in other areas. He's bigger (6-foot-5 and 222 pounds, which gives him two inches and 42 pounds on Kelly), has a stronger arm and is a more precise and effective passer. He's also a full year younger at age 23. Had he stayed at Michigan, Henson would have been a leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy in 2001 and go No. 1 overall in the 2002 NFL draft.

Though Henson insists he remains firmly committed to baseball despite his struggles, the Houston Texas still drafted him in the sixth round this year. The Texans control his NFL rights for a year until he'd re-enter the draft pool in 2004. He'd become a football free agent in 2005 if he hasn't signed by then.

Both Henson and Kelly have gone 0-for-1 in very brief big league cameos, and their odds of doing much more than that aren't great. Neither has been able to translate his athletic ability into baseball production, and both have little command of the strike zone. Both are in their second full season in Triple-A. Henson is batting .228/.286/.399 with a 96-24 strikeout-walk ratio in 107 games, and may move to the outfield in the wake of the Aaron Boone trade. Kelly is hitting .246/.313/.432 with a 81-29 K-BB ratio in 97 contests.

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