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Ask BA

If you have a question, send it to Please include your full name and hometown if you'd like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column. Also, please understand that we can't respond to every question.

By Jim Callis

July 30, 2003

With the deadline for trades without waivers coming tomorrow, remember to stay tuned to Trade Central for analysis of all players involved, no matter how obscure. Most of us know about Doug Glanville's limited talents, but where else are you going to find out about Jason Fransz, whom the Cubs gave to the Rangers for Glanville?

    In your opinion, who are the top five Australians playing in the minors?

    Richard Unwin
    Melbourne, Australia

When I started putting the list together, I was surprised at how quickly it dropped off after the first three names. Here's what I came up with:

1. Justin Huber, c, Mets
One of the cornerstones on which New York can rebuild
2. Chris Snelling, of, Mariners
Accumulates line drives and injuries like few others
3. Travis Blackley, lhp, Mariners
Leads Double-A Southern League in wins (13), ERA (2.11) at age 20
4. Grant Balfour, rhp, Twins
Unable to crack Minnesota bullpen despite mid-90s fastball, plus slider
5. John Stephens, rhp, Orioles
Soft tosser consistently dominated before repeating Triple-A this year

A new name to watch is Angels righthander Richard Thompson, who has put up some silly numbers in his first full pro season. Just 19, he has gone 2-2, 0.92 with 14 saves in 40 games between low Class A Cedar Rapids and high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. His strikeout-walk ratio is a stellar 66-16 in 49 innings, and opponents have batted just .170 with two homers against him. Like many of the Australians in the minors, he doesn't throw exceptionally hard and relies on his offspeed stuff to get outs. Thompson has two curveballs, one that he throws in the high 70s and a 12-to-6 breaker in the low 70s.

Righthanders P.J. Bevis (Mets) and Mike Nakamura (Twins) and lefty Chris Oxspring (Padres) possibly could become effective setup men in the majors, given the opportunity. They've consistently put up strong numbers in the minors.

    What do you think of the Dodgers' strategy of drafting primarily high schoolers? Of their top 25 picks, 20 were from high school and 11 of those are unsigned. It seems illogical to me to waste a high draft pick on someone who has the option to go to college. Any chance of second-rounder Chuck Tiffany or third-rounder Cory Van Allen signing?

    Gary Huftile
    Brisbane, Australia

Two questions from Australia in the same edition of Ask BA must be a first.

It's not that the Dodgers have gone into their two drafts under scouting director Logan White looking to load up on high school players. (Fourteen of their top 25 picks in 2002 came from the prep ranks, and four of those didn't sign.) But with a growing number of teams focusing on collegians, Los Angeles has taken the best players on its board when its picks have come up. They're not eschewing college players as much as they're not following the recent trend.

It makes sense to me that a club would take the top prospect available, more sense than it would to just eliminate a whole demographic. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: If I were drafting, I'd want to get the best available player in the first five or six rounds, then emphasize signable college picks, then take some fliers on draft-and-follows and difficult-to-sign high school talent.

Most of the Dodgers' top prospects either were drafted out of high school or signed on the international market as teenagers. We ranked them as the 14th-best farm system in baseball entering the year, so their philosophy hasn't hurt them.

Los Angeles is still trying to sign high school lefties Tiffany and Van Allen, both of whom have proved more difficult to get under contract than previously thought. But as a fallback, the Dodgers could shift their attention to later-round picks such as righthander Derik Olvey (13th round), shortstop Matt Antonelli (19th), righty Doug Frame (22nd) or infielder Andy LaRoche (39th). All were considered premium prospects. One way or another, the Dodgers should come away with a representative amount of talent out of the 2003 draft.

    The Red Sox system looks like it's on the way up after the change in management. Chad Spann and Kevin Youkilis are both having great years at the plate. Who will be a better player if they max out their potential? Manny Delcarmen looked like the clear-cut favorite to be Boston's top pitching prospect but had to have Tommy John surgery. Will he still be the Red Sox' top arm when you do the offseason rankings? Or will it be someone else?

    James Thomas
    Cambridge, Mass.

Though it's still very early to know for sure, this year's draft looks like a positive step for the Red Sox, whose system we ranked 27th (or fourth-worst) during the offseason. Before anyone starts saying the Boston has had enough prospects to make trades, that's more attributable to general manager Theo Epstein's acumen and the Red Sox' financial advantages. The system still is short on blue-chippers and on depth, especially in the upper levels of the system.

Spann is having a breakout year, hitting .314/.387/.408 as a 19-year-old in low Class A, and he's a better athlete with more power potential than Youkilis. But I'd still take Youkilis, who put up .327/.487/.465 numbers in Double-A at age 24 before his recent promotion to Triple-A. Though it's still uncertain how much over-the-fence power Youkilis will develop—he has 17 homers in 295 pro games—that kind of on-base ability is immensely valuable.

Coming into the year, we ranked Phil Dumatrait (dealt yesterday to the Reds for Scott Williamson) and Delcarmen as the Red Sox' top two pitching prospects. Billy Simon, who was the No. 3 pitcher, has yet to pitch in 2003 because of a hereditary vertebrae condition in his neck.

Boston's best pitching prospect now is lefthander Jorge de la Rosa, who could get be the primary bait if the team makes another big trade tomorrow. Bought from the Mexican League's Monterrey Sultans in April 2000, the 22-year-old de la Rosa has gone 6-3, 3.01 in 20 games (18 starts) at Double-A Portland this year. He has a 95-33 strikeout-walk ratio in 90 innings, and has held hitters to a .237 average and six homers. He has a 92-94 mph fastball and hard breaking ball, and could project as either a starter or a power reliever.

July 25, 2003

I've written about Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" a lot this year, both in Ask BA and in the magazine. After watching "Rome Is Burning" Tuesday night on ESPN, I find myself coming back for more.

I haven't seen someone fold like that since Livan Hernandez took the mound in Game Seven of last year's World Series.

Lewis and BA columnist Tracy Ringolsby, who expressed his disdain for the book in a May column went toe to toe. When Ringolsby pressed Lewis on some of the book's inaccuracies (that the Athletics couldn't afford Jason Giambi, when the sides agreed on a $91 million deal that came apart because of a no-trade clause) or omissions (that the old scouting staff, which Lewis ridiculed, preferred Todd Helton to general manager Billy Beane's choice of Ariel Prieto with Oakland's 1995 first-round pick), Lewis couldn't do anything but call Ringolsby names. He called Ringolsby a midget and said that a lot of people who do their job a lot better than Ringolsby liked the book. His basic defense was to point to his reviews.

I'm not here to defend Tracy, who did that well enough on his own. But I'm sick of Lewis portraying Baseball America as having an old-school mentality. We may not crunch as many numbers as A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta, but we know how to read statistics and we incorporate them into our analysis. On the show, Lewis claimed that BA's publisher and editor called him to tell him "Moneyball" was the best baseball book ever and would the change the game. While our publisher, Lee Folger, and managing editor, Will Lingo, have spoken with Lewis, neither said that.

It's no big shock that Lewis would distort facts about BA, because he did that in "Moneyball." He wrote that we said Jeremy Brown would be lucky to get drafted in 2002, when we ranked him as one of the top prospects in the state of Alabama and commented: "Brown's body (5-foot-10, 208 pounds) isn't pretty, but he's the best catcher in the Southeastern Conference and could be at least a solid big league backup." And considering that the year before, the then tools-intensive Red Sox had drafted Brown in the 19th round, why would we think he wouldn't get picked again?

Lewis also writes that BA continually ripped on Brown's appearance through 2002, and that's just not the case. We had an organization report on him after Oakland took him 35th overall, because he was the most surprising first-round pick in the draft. The next time we wrote about him in any detail, we ranked him as the A's fourth-best prospect. So while Lewis continues to extol the virtues of Brown, he needs to get it out of his head that we bear a grudge against his favorite prospect. He also needs a dose of perspective, as Lewis compared Brown to Jackie Robinson in one interview because both were victims of prejudice based on their physical appearance.

I enjoyed a lot of "Moneyball", in particular the inside look at how the A's went about the 2002 draft, and the in-depth background on Beane, Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteberg. And while it's a best-seller, that doesn't make its flaws any less annoying. I just wish Lewis hadn't distorted or ignored facts when they didn't point to the conclusions that he wanted to draw.

    How do you see the Indians' outfield situation playing out in the next two years? Milton Bradley in center field, or will he get traded with Grady Sizemore taking over? Alex Escobar in right? Ryan Ludwick or Jody Gerut in left, with Covelli Crisp as an extra outfielder?

    Bruce Norlander

It's almost impossible to know who's going to get traded, so I'll start with assuming that the Indians will hang onto Bradley and build around him. His .922 on-base plus slugging percentage ranks fifth among big league center fielders, and he's just 25.

Sizemore, who was MVP of the Futures Game, is having a tremendous season in Double-A (.290/.358/.447) for a 20-year-old. His weakest tool is his arm, so I'll leave Bradley in center and move Sizemore to left.

That leaves several players vying for the final spot in the outfield. Besides the guys Bruce mentioned, Ben Broussard, Ryan Church and Luis Garcia are candidates, and don't forget 2002 draftees Jason Cooper and Ben Francisco or 2003 first-rounder Brad Snyder. I also suspect the Indians eventually will have to give up on Corey Smith as a third baseman and will make him an outfielder.

Escobar is hitting for power in Triple-A but he's still swinging at everything, so I think it comes down to Gerut versus Ludwick, who was just acquired from the Rangers in a trade for Ricardo Rodriguez. It's hard to argue with how Gerut's playing as a big league rookie (.274/.328/.504 at age 25), though Ludwick is nine months younger and has more power, not to mention a slightly better track record. I'll give Gerut the edge for now because he has gotten a head start on Ludwick. If Snyder is everything the Indians think he can be, they'll have to find a spot somewhere for him as well.

    Every sports news source in Pittsburgh says that the Pirates will choose between Bobby Hill, Francis Beltran and Steve Smyth as the player to be named later in the Aramis Ramirez/Kenny Lofton trade with the Cubs. You discussed Hill in the last Ask BA, so what do you think of the two pitchers? Will the switch of Jose Castillo to second base in Double-A make the Pirates choose one of the two pitchers to finalize the deal? With every trade general manager Dave Littlefield makes, pitching is included. This makes me wonder who the top hitting prospects are in the Pittsburgh system.

    William Banyas

    The Pirates can select between Bobby Hill, Francis Beltran and Steve Smyth as their player to be named later. Personally, I think Hill should be their choice because they don't have a second baseman for 2004, unless Jose Castillo is healthy. Whom would you choose you were the Pirates, and whom do you think the Pirates will choose?

    Brendan Shorts
    Mount Lebanon, Pa.

    Is there any chance that the player to be named in the Pirates-Cubs trade will be significant?

    Mike Wilk

    Why did the Pirates make trades for such poor prospects? Are they trying to turn into the Tigers? Who will be left who is any good?

    Lisa Gray

When we initially reported on the trade, our sources told us it was a straight salary dump and that the player to be named would be of little consequence. Now those same sources now are saying what everyone else seems to be, that the Pirates will get to pick between Hill, Beltran and Smyth.

The Pittsburgh franchise is sliding into shambles right now, and I think they have to take the best long-term player, regardless of the presence of Castillo or anyone else. I'd take Hill for the reasons I detailed in the last Ask BA: He still can become a good offensive second baseman who can hit at the top of the order. Scouts have soured on him recently, so the Pirates might prefer Beltran.

A 23-year-old righthander, Beltran would be my second choice because he's a potential closer with a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider. He's not blowing away Triple-A Pacific Coast League hitters with his stuff, though his ERA is a tidy 2.27. Smyth, a 25-year-old lefty, was on the verge of getting called up in August 2001 when he went down with shoulder problems. He hasn't been as effective since having surgery to tighten his shoulder capsule and fix some fraying in his rotator cuff, and he has gone 3-7, 5.07 at Triple-A Iowa this year.

Littlefield is an intelligent GM, but the reason he hasn't been able to extract more in trades for Lofton, Ramirez, Scott Sauerbeck and Mike Williams is owner Kevin McClatchy. Outside of getting PNC Park built, the Pirates have accomplished little since McClatchy bought the club in 1996. With a $54.5 million Opening Day payroll and a club headed for its 11th consecutive losing season, McClatchy's primary goal seems to be to dump contracts without much regard for what the Pirates get in return. Brian Giles seems next in line to depart, and anyone who wants Kris Benson or Jason Kendall could have them for a song.

As for the best hitting prospects in the system, the top tier consists of (in no particular order) Triple-A outfielders Tony Alvarez and J.J. Davis; Double-A infielder Castillo; and high Class A third baseman Jose Bautista, catcher Ryan Doumit, outfielder Nate McLouth and first baseman/catcher Chris Shelton.

    Any chance the Rangers sign Rice first baseman Vince Sinisi, their second-round pick? I've heard almost nothing on him. Does Texas acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez put a potential roadblock in any negotiations with Sinisi? He could think that with Mark Teixeira and Gonzalez ahead of him, he would be better off waiting a year and going to a team without a logjam at his position. Or am I reading too much into it?

    Hunter Thornton
    Denton, Texas

I think the Rangers will sign Sinisi, one of the best pure hitters in the 2002 draft. Texas has to overcome three difficult factors: it's hard to sign players early out of Rice; as a sophomore-eligible he'll still have plenty of leverage if he goes back into the 2004 draft; and Scott Boras is advising him. But Boras also has a good relationship with the Rangers, and I can't see why they would have taken him in the second round without a very good inkling that they could get a deal done. He'll definitely require more than slot money, and I'll guess that Texas will give him a seven-figure bonus toward the end of the summer so it will affect as few unsigned draft picks as possible.

I don't think either Texas or Sinisi is going to wonder about who might loom as a roadblock for him. Talent stockpiles and positions tend to change over time, and several scouts believe Sinisi has the athleticism to play the outfield.

July 22, 2003

With all the talk about on-base percentage for hitters, how come little attention is paid to opponent OPS against pitchers? It's a better measure of their effectiveness than their won-lost record or ERA. Here are the 10 best pitcher OPS in the majors, as well as their ERA and where that ranks:

                      OOPS    ERA   Rank 
Pedro Martinez, Bos   .564   2.21    2nd
Jason Schmidt, SF     .564   2.41    4th
Kevin Brown, LA       .580   2.26    3rd
Tim Hudson, Oak       .589   2.71    6th
Brandon Webb, Ari     .592   2.45    5th
Esteban Loaiza, CWS   .608   2.16    1st
Hideo Nomo, LA        .609   2.85    8th
Mark Redman, Fla      .611   3.05   11th
Mike Mussina, NYY     .626   3.30   18th
Barry Zito, Oak       .634   3.22   14th

In case you're wondering, Cincinnati's Danny Graves ranks last among all qualifies with an .887 opponent OPS.

    There has been a lot of talk about the Cubs trading Bobby Hill. I was wondering why the organization is willing to give up on him. Since April 29 he has hit .322, and he's at or near the top in almost every offensive category for Triple-A Iowa. Is he a clubhouse cancer? Does Cubs manager Dusty Baker dislike him?

    Matt Staats

Hill went into 2002 as the best second-base prospect in the game and looked like a lock to be the Cubs' leadoff man for the next decade or so. But he has hurt himself by not seizing the big league opportunities presented to him. Called up in May last year, he was given a starting job and responded by hitting .182. After a demotion to Triple-A, he returned to Chicago in late August and batted a solid .314/.358/.451 in 102 at-bats.

Though the Cubs traded for Mark Grudzielanek in an offseason salary dump, Hill was still first in line to be their regular second baseman. When Grudzielanek sprained his right ankle and missed nearly three weeks in spring training, Hill's opportunity was all the more obvious. But he made a poor impression on Baker, batting .170 and showing erratic defense. Mark Bellhorn started very slowly in April, leaving a possible opening in the Cubs infield. Hill failed to capitalize, however, by hitting .216 at Iowa in the season's first month. He got called up for 10 days in June, but only got four at-bats before returning to the minors.

Like the Cubs, scouts aren't as high on Hill as they used to be. But I still see a lot to like. He's 25 and has the ability to be an offensive second baseman who can hit first or second in the order. He's hitting .289/.367/.416 in 84 games at Iowa, he makes contact and gets on base, can steal on occasion and has looked more steady defensively. Hill also has played six games at third base, though the Cubs haven't shown any inclination to see if he can solve their hot-corner woes. I wouldn't be surprised if Chicago uses him in a deadline deal.

    It looks like the Mets have gotten themselves a young and exciting 1-2 combo in center fielder Jeff Duncan and shortstop Jose Reyes. While all of baseball knows about Reyes, I haven't heard all that much about Duncan. Is he the Mets' center fielder of the future? Will he develop into an elite top-of-the-order hitter, or will he merely settle in as a utility outfielder?

    Salman Al-Sudairi
    Greenwich, Conn.

It has been hard to get a handle on Duncan because injuries limited him to 210 games in his first 2½ seasons after he signed as a seventh-round pick out of Arizona State in 2000. He hit a combined .373/.470/.540 last year between low Class A Capital City and high Class A St. Lucie, but he also was 23, very old for that level, and made it into just 69 games because he broke his nose when he walked into a bat being swung during pregame drills.

He has proven himself this season, hitting .288/.376/.406 in 76 Double-A games to leapfrog over Prentice Redman and take over in center field for the Mets. With his line-drive swing, patient approach and basestealing aptitude, he should be able to hit at the top of the order for New York. I wouldn't call him an "elite" player, but with his offensive skills and his solid defensive play in center, he can hold down a regular job in the majors.

Unlike Hill, Duncan has made the most of his first big league opportunity. He went 11-for-30 (.367) with nine walks in his first 12 games, and he has two singles and a walk in his first three trips to the plate today against the Phillies. It's a lot easier to parlay a hot start into a big league career—as Bo Hart is finding out—than it is with a cold one.

    With rumors of the Orioles possibly receiving Adrian Beltre from the Dodgers in exchange for Melvin Mora, would this be a good idea with third-base prospect Tripper Johnson coming through the system? Does Johnson have a legitimate shot of being the future third baseman in Baltimore, and what kind of player do you think he'll turn out to be?

    Josh Krauss
    Darnestown, Md.

I'd do that trade if I were running the Orioles. Mora is playing over his head right now and his value never will be higher, while Beltre still has a world of potential—he's seven years younger than Mora—and won't ever come cheaper. I really like Johnson, who's the best batting prospect in the Baltimore system, but he's two years away from the majors. Once he gets there, the Orioles could figure out what to do with him and Beltre.

Johnson, 21, was a 2000 supplemental first-round pick out of Newport High (Bellevue, Wash.), which also produced Orioles pitching prospect Rommie Lewis. Johnson is a good all-around athlete who also excelled in basketball and football at Newport. He's holding his own by hitting .281/.366/.399 as a young regular in the high Class A Carolina League, and there's a lot more power to come than his current four homers in 89 games. He just needs to become more consistent at making contract (68 strikeouts in 306 at-bats) and at playing third base, but the tools are there.

    After eight at-bats at short-season Vermont, Expos second-round pick Jerry Owens seems to have vanished. What happened to him?

    Rino Possemato

The Expos hope to get Owens, one of the best athletes in the 2003 draft, back on the field by mid-August. After he went 1-for-8 in his first two pro games, doctors discovered that he had a hernia that developed while he was at The Master's (Calif.) College. Owens had minor surgery and is currently rehabilitating his condition.

The lost time is more costly to Owens than most prospects because he's so raw. Owens spent two years in the UCLA football program before transferring in August 2001. He hadn't played baseball since he was on the junior varsity as a sophomore at Hart High (Newhall, Calif.), where he was best known as a wide receiver catching passes from Kyle Boller (a Baltimore Ravens first-round pick in the 2003 NFL draft). This spring, Owens hit a school-record .451 for The Master's and showed top-notch speed, but he's still learning the game and needs at-bats against quality competition.

July 18, 2003

It's time to check in on my draft and see how the signings are going. You may recall that right after the draft, I wrote a column where I picked my own players, one in each of the first 10 rounds, choosing in the 31st slot in each round. Here's a recap, along with what they signed for and what it would have cost me:

Pick (Drafting Team, Round)      Signed For         My Slot
 1. Ryan Sweeney (CWS, 2nd)      $785,000*          $1,025,000*
 2. Tony Richie (ChC, 4th)       $375,000           $525,000 
 3. Cliff Davis (Hou, 6th)       $200,000*          $400,000*
 4. Justin James (Tor, 5th)      $202,500           $230,000 
 5. Clark Girardeau (SD, 7th)    $130,000           $165,000
 6. Andy D'Alessio (Cin, 10th)   unsigned           $500,000
 7. Matt Maniscalco (TB, 8th)    $10,000            $10,000
 8. Chris Durbin (Bos, 10th)     $31,000            $40,000
 9. Michael Brown (Det, 13th)    signed             $20,000
10. Myron Leslie (Phi, 11th)     unsigned           TBA
*Bonus spread over five years via provision for two-sport athletes.

Because I took all of my players higher than they went in the real draft, I gave them the slot money based on where I picked them. I originally estimated it would take $3.75 million to land all 10, and the eight who have signed with pro teams would have cost me $2.415 million (though the present value for Sweeney and Davis is lower than what's listed above).

That would leave me with two more players to nail down. Florida high school slugger Andy D'Alessio, who projected to go in the first three rounds before he broke the hamate bone in his right wrist, let teams know he wanted $500,000 to sign. The Reds may not give that to him as a 10th-rounder, but that fits in my budget so I'm considering him signed for my purposes. South Florida shortstop Myron Leslie hasn't agreed to terms as a Phillies 11th-rounder, but I could find $100,000 for a switch-hitting athlete who'll move to third base or catcher as a pro. Whether he'd take that remains to be seen.

    I was wondering what the word is on Athletics shortstop prospect Bobby Crosby. Would he make your Top 100 Prospects right now? He's hitting .297-15-50 in 87 games with 13 steals and just eight errors at Triple-A Sacramento, and that was after a very slow start. I always thought of him as more of a Mark Elllis type with a little more upside, but it appears I have underestimated him. What should A's fans expect from his bat in the majors? And I was wondering if any team has ever had shortstop run like Oakland has with Walt Weiss, Mike Bordick, Miguel Tejada and likely Crosby.

    Dale Carriger
    San Francisco

Crosby would be somewhere in the middle of my Top 100 right now. Not to take anything away from Ellis, but Crosby has a higher ceiling offensively and defensively. He's a solid shortstop while Ellis is more of a second baseman. The A's defense has been a key to their success this year, and if they lose Tejada to free agency, they'd be taking a hit by putting Ellis at short. At the plate, Crosby has significantly more power than Ellis. Here's how their numbers stack up against each other in their first seasons in Triple-A:

        Year  Age    G   AVG   OBP   SLG  BB  SO  SB
Crosby  2003   23   87  .297  .378  .519  40  80  13
Ellis   2001   24  132  .273  .351  .417  54  78  21

Crosby is striking out a lot this year and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League is benevolent to hitters, so I wouldn't expect him to challenge .300 as a rookie if he takes over for Tejada next year. I could see him batting .265 with 15 homers in 2004 and developing into one of the better shortstops in the American League over the next few years.

I think you may be overrating the value of Weiss and Bordick, who were good defenders but didn't do much with the bat. I did some quick research at the ever-useful and came up with six shortstop runs that stood out. All had at least three quality players and were unbroken except for a couple of one-year intervals here and there. I'll list them in chronological order:

Team        Years       Shortstops
Giants      1897-1931   George Davis, Bill Dahlen, Al Bridwell, Art Fletcher,
                        Dick Bancroft, Travis Jackson
Pirates     1921-41     Rabbit Maranville, Glenn Wright, Dick Bartell, Arky Vaughan
White Sox   1932-62     Luke Appling, Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio
Red Sox     1937-51     Joe Cronin, Johnny Pesky, Vern Stephens
Reds        1962-2003   Leo Cardenas, Dave Concepcion, Barry Larkin
Padres      1978-92     Ozzie Smith, Garry Templeton, Tony Fernandez
    While none of the players the Mets acquired in their three recent trades appear to be elite prospects, how would they fit into Baseball America's Top 30 list of Mets prospects published in the 2003 Prospect Handbook? Of the nine, which have improved their status the most this season? And how would you rate the group from 1 to 9?

    Peter Berryman
    Savannah, Ga.

All interesting questions. I'll take the last one first:

1. Royce Ring, lhp (from White Sox for Roberto Alomar)
Potential closer, succeeding in Double-A in first full pro season
2. Victor Diaz, 2b (from Dodgers for Jeromy Burnitz)
Hitting .292 in Double-A after winning two straight batting titles
3. Jason Anderson, rhp (from Yankees for Armando Benitez)
Fastball has risen to mid-90s since he moved to the bullpen
4. Joselo Diaz, rhp (from Dodgers)
Has power arm, still searching for consistent second pitch
5. Anderson Garcia, rhp (from Yankees)
His 96-mph fastball was one of the best in low Class A Midwest League
6. Kole Strayhorn, rhp (from Dodgers)
Another strong arm, but maximum-effort delivery a concern
7. Edwin Almonte, rhp (from White Sox)
Changeup artist had 62 saves in 2001-02 but isn't fooling anyone now
8. Ryan Bicondoa, rhp (from Yankees)
Control specialist hasn't been sharp this year while battling arm woes
9. Andrew Salvo, inf (from White Sox)
His .228 average in low Class A offsets his penchant for drawing walks

I know the trade market hasn't exactly been bursting with prospects this summer, but I'm not overwhelmed by the Mets' haul. A pessimistic way of looking at it is that the best they got are six relievers and an infielder with big defensive question marks.

Ring, Victor Diaz and Anderson all would have factored into the back end of the Mets Top 15 coming into the season. Joselo Diaz and Anderson Garcia have boosted their stock more than anyone, but I'm not sure either would have made the book. Almonte and Bicondoa likely would have made the lower half of the Top 30.

    Because Randall Simon probably will be a Pirate for just one year, does this trade now look like a stinker? Giving up Kody Kirkland as one of the three prospects never made sense to me.

    Benton Jennings
    Lebanon, Tenn.

    I'm curious about Tigers third-base prospect Kody Kirkland, who was acquired as part of the Randall Simon trade. He's putting up some solid short-season numbers at Oneonta. The Detroit system desperately needs some impact offensive players. How high of a ceiling does Kirkland have?

    Craig Maguire

I can appreciate the Pirates' desire to get Kevin Young out of their lineup, even if he still had another year to go on an ill-advised, four-year contract worth $24 million that former general manager Cam Bonifay gave him. And I think the current GM, Dave Littlefield, is generally making positive changes as he tries to rebuild the club. But I couldn't understand why Littlefield would trade three prospects to get Simon when Craig Wilson deserved a shot to play every day at first base.

Wilson has more power and gets on base more than Simon does, and he's also younger and cheaper. If the Pirates risk arbitration with Simon in the offseason, they could wind up paying him $3 million for 2004.They may decide to just let him go, in which case the trade would make less sense.

Lefthander Adrian Burnside has been slowed by a groin injury and hasn't done much in Double-A, and righty Roberto Novoa has been just so-so in high Class A. The best of the three players the Pirates gave up appears to be Kirkland. A 30th-round pick in 2001, he signed as a draft-and-follow out of the JC of Southern Idaho before the 2002 draft. He has youth (20), size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and athleticism on his side, and he can hit. He's batting .342/.406/.535 through 28 games and he's in the New York-Penn League triple crown race with three homers and 23 RBIs. If Kirkland continues to hit and develops his power potential, he's going to make the Simon trade look that much worse.

July 16, 2003

Even with Hank Blalock's All-Star Game heroics, the All-Star Futures Game was still the highlight of all the festivities. That doesn't mean that the Futures Game couldn't use a few improvements, however.

How about a nine-inning game, which would mean that we could see most hitters get multiple plate appearances and most pitchers face more than a batter or two? Of the 22 pitchers selected to participate, five didn't get into the game and only nine got to work a full inning.

To ensure the highest quality of prospects, it's time to scrap the United States vs. World format and go with American League versus National League. Some of the spots, most notably first base, were difficult to fill on the World team. There also are cases where a team such as the Blue Jays has two quality World prospects (Guillermo Quiroz and Alexis Rios), which essentially froze out their top prospect (American Dustin McGowan).

It's also time for the Futures Game to get its own home run derby. It doesn't have to be nearly as lengthy as the big league affair, but it would have been fun to see sluggers such as Franklin Gutierrez and Ryan Howard go at it.

    What's the skinny on Devil Rays catching prospect Pete LaForest? After missing spring training with visa problems and then finally arriving after the season had started, he has rocketed up the system and is hitting with impressive power at Triple-A Durham. Is Toby Hall in trouble if he doesn't pick it up with the bat? How good are LaForest's defensive skills?

    Craig Mayfield

LaForest is having a nice year with the bat, which has him knocking on the door of the majors after a minor league career that has had more than its share of potholes. He originally signed with Expos as a 16th-round pick out of a Quebec high school in 1995, only to have the contract voided because of a pre-existing injury. He didn't catch on with a team until the Devil Rays picked him up as a free agent two years later, and he had to make the conversion from third base to catcher in 2000. Then he injured his right knee in 2001 and missed almost the entire season.

LaForest rebounded in 2002, tying for the Double-A Southern League lead with 20 homers and topping the Devil Rays system with 79 RBIs. But he couldn't build off the momentum of that performance until mid-May, thanks to some bad advice the team gave him when he first signed. A Rays official told him to use his student visa (he was attenting Fort Scott, Kan., CC) rather than wait for the proper work visa, and he got caught by U.S. immigration authorities. LaForest was banned from entering the United States but annually has applied for and received a special-exemption waiver. But last offseason, the Immigration and Naturalization Service misplaced his paperwork and it took months to straighten out.

Originally ticketed for big league camp and then a starting job at Triple-A, LaForest didn't get on the field until May 15 and had to return to Double-A Orlando. Promoted to Durham in early June, the 25-year-old has hit a combined .276/.392/.579 in 43 games. He also put on one of the more impressive batting-practice shows at the Futures Game.

Hall hasn't hit as expected, but LaForest has yet to prove he can handle the defensive responsibilities of an everyday big league catcher. He still lacks some polish and he's not effective against the running game. He threw out just 19 percent of basestealers in 2002 and has dropped to 12 percent this year. He may be better suited to be a DH/first baseman/backup catcher.

    The trade for Roberto Alomar, the trading of D'Angelo Jimenez and the move of Willie Harris to the outfield makes me wonder what the future holds for two White Sox second-base prospects, Aaron Miles and Ruddy (formerly Edwin) Yan. Both have been tearing up their leagues, yet nothing much seems to be made of them (other than Yan is one of eight minor leaguers the Rangers are rumored to be able to choose as compensation for Carl Everett). Do Miles and Yan have a legitimate future in Chicago or any other major league city?

    Jim Duncan
    Olathe, Kan.

Miles gets overlooked because he's small (5-foot-8), old (26) and doesn't have a good draft pedigree (19th round out of high school in 1995). But at some point, he deserves a chance to see what he can do on the major league level. He was the MVP of the Southern League in 2002, when he led Birmingham to the championship. Miles batted .322/.369/.450 and led the SL in games (138), hits (171), total bases (239) and doubles (39).

He was repeating Double-A, so his performance had to be taken with a grain of salt, but he has continued to perform well in Triple-A this year, hitting .316/.355/.471. He's nothing special defensively and he's essentially David Eckstein without the HBPs. (Quick aside: How come no one mentions how badly Eckstein has dropped off this season?) I still don't understand why the Mets took Andrew Salvo in the Alomar trade. They could have asked for Miles without ruining the deal.

Yan, whose first name changed and whose birthdate was revised to 13 months earlier in the offseason, is much younger (22) and more athletic than Miles. Yet I'm still not convinced he's anything more than a prolific minor league basestealer. He led the minors with 88 swipes in 2002 and has 50 in 85 games this year. While he's batting .291-1-18 and leading the Carolina League in steals and runs (68), he's also repeating high Class A and has mediocre on-base (.358) and slugging (.347) percentages. He's going to have to show more with the stick to convince me that he's more than an upgraded version of Esix Snead.

    Please rank the top free-agent pitchers who will be available for 2004? I am a Rangers fan and while the Ugueth Urbina trade seems like a great one, Texas stands to lose Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro before next season. The Rangers will need to spend that money on pitching, so whom can they get for next year?

    C. Tracy Munden
    Abilene, Texas

With a 5.94 ERA that's nearly a full run worse than the next-most-shellshocked pitching staff (the Rockies, at 5.18), the Rangers need more pitching than they're going to be able to sign in one offseason. But I'll play along, ranking pitchers in the order of whom I'd feel best about giving a three-year contract (2004 ages in parentheses):

 1. Kevin Millwood, Phillies (29)
 2. Bartolo Colon, White Sox (31)
 3. Sidney Ponson, Orioles (27)
 4. Andy Pettitte, Yankees (32)
 5. Kelvim Escobar, Blue Jays (28)
 6. Roger Clemens, Yankees (41)
 7. Greg Maddux, Braves (38)
 8. John Thomson, Rangers (30)
 9. Cory Lidle, Blue Jays (32)
10. Brian Anderson, Indians (32)

As you can see, there's not much depth there, as the last three guys are essentially chaff. For 2004 only, Clemens would be my pick, as he's having a better season than anyone I've listed. And while it would make all kinds of sense on and off the field for the Rangers to bring him home, he seems determined to retire. Maddux is still plugging along, but I wouldn't want to meet his price for a three-year deal. Millwood is easily the class of this list, with Colon, Ponson and Pettitte making up the second tier.

Starters With 2004 Team Options
 1. Hideo Nomo, Dodgers (35), $8 million
 2. Esteban Loaiza, White Sox (32), $3.5 million
 3. Miguel Batista, Diamondbacks (33), $5 million
 4. Livan Hernandez, Expos (29), $6 million
 5. David Wells, Yankees (41), $6 million

The White Sox obviously will exercise Loaiza's option and the Yankees probably will do the same with Wells. Hernandez' option vests if he reaches 217 innings, and he's on pace for 222. It's also possible that Nomo and Batista will be retained as well, so none of these guys may reach the market.

 1. Keith Foulke, Athletics (31)
 2. Armando Benitez, Mets (31)
 3. Eddie Guardado, Twins (33)

Despite his All-Star Game save, Foulke is still underrated, and Benitez is criticized a lot more than he deserves. But the Rangers need to worry about their rotation before they start handing a multimillion-dollar deal to a closer.

July 11, 2003

This snuck up on me until general manager Kevin Goldstein brought it to my attention: Giants righthander Kevin Correia made his big league debut last night, getting the final four outs in an 11-3 loss to the Rockies. That makes Correia the upset winner in the race to become the first 2002 draftee to reach the majors, as he was a fourth-round pick out of Cal Poly last year.

Correia has a low-90s fastball, solid slider and a resilient arm. After making his pro debut last year in the short-season Northwest League, he jumped all the way to Double-A to open 2003. In 16 games (14 starts) at Norwich, he went 6-6, 3.65 with a 73-30 strikeout-walk ratio and .248 opponent average in 86 innings.

    The Colt Griffin story intrigues me. How are scouts assessing his progress? I've noticed that while he's still wild, his effectiveness has been much improved. His ERA is 3.61, he has allowed less than a hit per inning and he has more strikeouts than free passes (both walks and hit batsmen). Is he still working in the 94-97 mph range? How's his offspeed stuff developing?

    Austin Anderson
    Waco, Texas

Griffin, the ninth overall pick in the 2001 draft and a $2.4 million bonus baby, is best known for hitting 100 mph while at Marshall (Texas) High. But he's going to be a long-term project. He's spending his second straight year at low Class A Burlington, and here are the key numbers from those two seasons:

Year  W  L   ERA   G   IP   H  BB   K   AVG  K/BB  BR/9
2002  6  6  5.36  19   91  75  82  66  .232  0.80  17.1
2003  5  8  3.61  18  100  86  63  76  .238  1.21  14.4

Joe Szekely, who has managed Griffin the last two years, points out that people often forget that Griffin only has been pitching regularly since 2001 and he didn't receive much instruction before turning pro. Griffin still hits 96-98 mph on occasion, but he usually pitches at 93 mph and worries more about throwing strikes. Szekely says that instead of missing the plate wildly as he often did in 2002, Griffin is around the strike zone a lot more this year.

"It's just a matter of time before those walks become strikeouts," Szekely said. "We're very pleased with the strides he's making. When it all clicks, he's going to be flying up through the ranks."

Griffin also is getting more consistent with his slider and more comfortable with his changeup. He's still just 20 and it's far too early to write him off. However, I'm bothered that someone with his fastball isn't dominating hitters more than he has. He has won his last three starts, and he did toss a one-hitter for seven innings on Wednesday. But in that same game, he also walked six and struck out just one. My guess is he eventually winds up as a setup man, though his youth and stuff make his ceiling much higher than that.

    I have noticed that all but five fifth-round picks have signed. The five who haven't are Ohio University righthander Marc Cornell and four high schoolers. Is there much of a chance of the Reds signing Cornell? What would it take?

    Damon Morrin
    Miamisburg, Ohio

At one point during the spring, Cornell was mentioned a possibility for the No. 1 overall pick and a definite top-10 choice. He pitched at 94-95 mph and touched 97-98 before he came down with shoulder problems. An MRI didn't reveal any damage, just some instability, but that was enough to scare off clubs. Cornell had arthroscopic elbow surgery while in high school and shoulder tendinitis in 2002, and had little track record of success.

Sources tell us that the Reds have offered Cornell $75,000, while he's seeking twice that figure. The pick right ahead of him signed for $202,500, while the two behind him accepted $200,000. I'd expect Cincinnati to wait until the end of the summer, then evaluate Cornell to see if he's healthy. As long as no major red flags crop up, $150,000 is a good value for someone with his potential. He's currently on the roster of the Delaware Cows in the summer amateur Great Lakes League, though he has yet to pitch.

    I'm curious why Chris Shelton is never mentioned in the Prospect Hot Sheet. Shelton has destroyed high Class A Carolina League pitching. Can you give me more information on this slugger and what the future may hold?

    James Bailey

    What can you tell me about Chris Shelton in the Pirates organization? I had not seen him mentioned on any Pirates prospect list, yet he's tearing up the Carolina League. Where did he play amateur ball? How old is he? How long has he been in the system? Also, he doesn't seem to have a position because he has split time between first base and catcher. What does that tell us?

    Henry Livesay

Mickey White made a lot of nice picks when he was Pittsburgh's scouting director for the 1999-2001 drafts, and Shelton ranks as one of his best sleepers. A 33rd-round choice from the University of Utah in 2001, he hit a combined .328/.422/.524 in his first two pro seasons. He has been even more dangerous this year, hitting .356/.472/.636 through 79 games. He leads the Carolina League in batting and homers, and he's only three off the RBI lead. He also tops the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, extra-base hits (38) and total bases (166).

While Shelton's performance has been quite impressive, he's old for high Class A at 23. His position is also a question. A catcher at Utah, he has shared time behind the plate this year with Ryan Doumit. Doumit is considered a better athlete and defender, though Shelton has thrown out more basestealers (29 versus 20 percent).

Shelton is more of a first baseman or DH, and he strikes me as a slightly smaller (6 feet, 200 pounds) version of Pittsburgh's Craig Wilson. His bat will have to carry him to the majors and he needs to pick on pitchers his own age, but his career is off to a tremendous start. If he gets promoted to Double-A and keeps mashing, you'll see him on the Hot Sheet.

July 8, 2003

It isn't often that someone sends a question to Ask BA and then answers it themselves, but that's what Steve Haws (Las Vegas) did. Steve and a couple of other readers were wondering what happened to outfield prospect Ulises Powel, whom the Marlins touted as a potential Vladimir Guerrero last offseason. Powel hasn't shown up in any stats anywhere this year.

The reason, Steve discovered, is that Powel's real name is Juan Lindesey. More significant, his birthdate turned out to be four years earlier than previously believed. Lindesey is 22, not 18, and he's scuffling in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He has hit .129 with nine strikeouts in 10 games, and he has grounded into double plays more often (five) than he has collected hits (four).

    I'm a longtime Braves fan and Josh Boyd's rankings of the top catching prospects left me wondering about Atlanta's talent behind the plate. I assume that Johnny Estrada had too much major league time and Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn't have enough professional experience to be considered, which left only Brian McCann to be mentioned among the Sleepers. Can you give a brief description of the strengths and weaknesses of all three, how they would compare to each other and where Estrada would have ranked had he been eligible?

    Paul Ponder
    Woodstock, Ga.

Paul's assumptions are correct. Estrada wasn't considered for the rankings because he exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2001, while Saltalamacchia was left out because he was a 2003 draftee. Josh says he would have ranked Estrada in the 16-20 range had he still qualified. Though I'm not a big fan of Estrada, I'd concur because the pool of catching prospects gets very murky after the top 15 or so.

I'm not going to belabor the points I made when the Braves foolishly traded Kevin Millwood straight up for Estrada, but I will reiterate that I'm skeptical of his bat, despite his .335/.399/.498 performance in 72 games at Triple-A Richmond this year. He never has done more than hit for a decent average in his previous seven years in the minors, and it's quite possible that he's just having a career year in Triple-A at age 27. He has hit .224/.274/.345 in 103 big league games, and to me that's a truer read of his offensive upside. Defense is Estrada's strong suit, especially his game-calling. He has thrown out 29 percent of basestealers at Richmond this year.

McCann, a second-round pick out of a Georgia high school last year, has much more offensive promise. At age 19, he's more than holding his own in the low Class A South Atlantic League, batting .292/.337/.492. He's more raw defensively than Estrada, though he has a stronger arm and has erased 35 percent of basestealers.

Saltalamacchia, a supplemental first-round pick from a Florida high school in June, has the best all-around package of the three catchers. He looks the part at an athletic 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, and he's a switch-hitter with plus power potential and solid catch-and-throw skills. The knock on him was that he stood out more at showcases than in games, and that his long swing might require some shortening once he switched to wood bats. He has struggled in his first 15 games as a pro, batting .146/.281/.250.

    Is New Haven an extreme hitters' park? I'm wondering because of all the big offensive numbers being posted by the Blue Jays' Double-A prospects there.

    Rand Simon

Though the configuration at Yale Field (340 to left, 400 to center, 315 to right) might seem awfully cozy for lefthanded hitters, it actually favors pitchers. So far this year, the Ravens have played 43 games at home and 43 on the road. They and their opponents are averaging a combined 9.3 runs in New Haven, compared to 11.0 elsewhere.

I don't have the same data available for past seasons, but another way of looking at it is to see where New Haven has ranked in the 12-team Eastern League in terms of runs scored and allowed. From 1999-02, they stood 12th, fifth, 12th and fourth in terms of scoring and 10th, 12th, first and seventh in terms of most runs permitted. That's an average of eighth in both runs scored and allowed, not an indication that Yale Field is boosting scoring.

Here's how Ravens regulars are performing at home and on the road, in terms of on-base plus slugging percentage:

                    Home OPS   Road OPS
Shawn Fagan           .676       .907
John-Ford Griffin     .862       .743
Gabe Gross            .968       .832
Simon Pond            .995       .916	
Guillermo Quiroz      .830       .949
Dominic Rich          .605       .648
Alexis Rios           .863      1.030
Justin Singleton      .526       .819
Danny Solano          .722       .646
Rich Thompson         .638       .800
Overall               .792       .820

New Haven's hitters are having big years because of their talent, not their ballpark.

    I see the Indians signed 16th-rounder Aaron Laffey, one of their fliers from later in the draft. All I've heard about him is that he's a lefty and throws 93 mph. What do you know about him and what kind of ceiling does he have?

    Chris Mohan
    Belfast, Northern Ireland

Laffey didn't give up an earned run in 44 earned runs as a senior at Allegany High in Cumberland, Md. He's not especially big or projectable at 6 feet and 180 pounds, but he seemed to improve every time he pitched this spring and threw three pitches for strikes. He usually pitches in the high 80s, though he was clocked at 93 when the Indians scouted him in the Clark Griffith League after the draft. He didn't allow an earned run in 18 innings there either, facing mostly experienced college hitters. He also throws a slider and changeup, and he's a good athlete with a quick arm action and smooth mechanics.

Laffey could have gone in the first five rounds of the draft, but he told teams that he'd go to Virginia Tech if he wasn't one of the top 75 picks. (Area scouts compared him to former Hokie Joe Saunders, Anaheim's 2002 first-round pick.) As a result, he slid until Cleveland grabbed him in the 16th round. Laffey signed for $363,000, the equivalent of early fourth-round money. It's probably not a coincidence that Indians fourth-rounder Ben Harrison, a University of Florida outfielder, has said he was disappointed by his draft status and thinks he deserves first-round money.

Right now, Laffey's ceiling appears to be as an end-of-the-rotation starter. But much can change between when a high school pitcher is drafted and when he's ready for the majors, so we'll have to wait and see. With all the talent on hand in the Indians system, they won't have to rush him.

    Were the 1993 Bullard Knights of Fresno the last California team to win Baseball America's national high school championship before this season? Also, is there a way to access final rankings for every year that you have compiled them?

    Andrew Haynes

Actually, Chatsworth High's 33-1 team this year became the first California club to rank No. 1 in the final Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association Top 25 since we began ranking high schools in 1992. In 1993, Bullard went 26-3 to finish second behind Phoenix' Greenway High (32-2).

The final polls aren't archived online, so they're available only in back issues of the magazine or our annual Almanac. Here's a complete list of our national champions:

1992   Westminster Christian (Miami)
1993   Greenway (Phoenix)
1994   Sarasota (Fla.)
1995   Germantown (Tenn.)
1996   Westminster Christian (Miami)
1997   Jesuit (Tampa)
1998   Vestavia Hills (Ala.)
1999   Lassiter (Marietta, Ga.)
2000   Gloucester Catholic (Gloucester City, N.J.)
2001   Seminole (Fla.)
2002   Elkins (Missouri City, Texas)
2003   Chatsworth (Calif.)

July 2, 2003

Like everyone who worked with former senior editor John Royster at Baseball America, I'm still having a hard time believing that he died of a heart attack on Sunday at age 43. John may have been the nicest and most easygoing person who ever has worked at BA. He did a lot of stuff behind the scenes, so he wasn't the most visible member of our editorial staff, but one of my favorite stories at the magazine was John's account of how he tried out for Team USA in 1991. I'll miss him terribly.

Managing editor Will Lingo does a tremendous job of capturing what John meant to all of us.

I've gotten a few emails on my column last issue on Connie Mack's preference for college players. Matt Kerr (Gettysburg, Pa.) said that a Gettysburg College official told him that, contrary to popular belief, Hall of Famer Eddie Plank didn't graduate from the college and merely attended a prep school (Gettysburg Academy) affiliated with it. Apparently, the college let him play on its team because he was at the academy. Plank went straight from school to the Philadelphia Athletics as a 25-year-old in 1901, so if this is true, I don't understand why he would have been in prep school at that age.

Peter Muncie (Columbia, Md.) pointed out that Girard College, which former American League home run champ Harry Davis attended, covers grades 1-12 and isn't a university. So cross him off the list of Mack's college signees.

Bill Brackbill (Nazareth, Pa.) wrote to say that the column struck an emotional chord with him because his father had signed with Mack, who then sent him to play at Duke for legendary coach Jack Coombs, who had starred on the mound for the A's. Brackbill's dad hurt his arm as a freshman and never was the same, but repaid his education by pitching batting practice for the A's and helping the Macks with their Atlantic Baseball School.

"I remember sitting in Mr. Mack's office at Shibe Park and listening to his stories," Bill wrote. "Did you know that he sometimes babysat, in his office, the players' children while the team was practicing?"

Due to space limitations and some unfortunate editing, a couple of interesting facts were cut from the column, so I'll relate them here:

When Mack didn't have the money to build a true farm system after the Depression, he found several stars at colleges. Hall of Famer George Kell attended Arkansas State (which had no baseball team) before turning pro with a Class D league team. Sam Chapman (California) and Mike Higgins (Texas) were baseball/football standouts. Chapman, Higgins and Boston College's Joe Coleman Sr. all made all-star teams for Mack.

Not only did several of Mack's former players become college coaches, but many also were hugely successful. Jack Barry won the 1952 College World Series and an NCAA Division I-record 80.6 percent of his games at Holy Cross. Max Bishop's (Navy), Andy Coakley's (Columbia) and Coombs' programs eventually named their stadiums after them.

With July 4 on Friday, you only get one Ask BA this week. Happy Independence Day, everyone.

    After modest offensive production the previous two seasons, the Mets' Danny Garcia has been tearing it up at Double-A and Triple-A this year. Is this performance for real, or should we expect a return to the form he previously displayed? What are the chances of him stepping in now that Roberto Alomar has been shipped off?

    Art Gering
    New York

    What's the story on the Danny Garcia? This can't be entirely a fluke, can it? Any chance Garcia gets called up after the Roberto Alomar trade? They've been talking about moving Ty Wigginton over to second base, but that seems like it could be a recipe for disaster. What do you think would be a better option?

    Jason Phillips
    New Canaan, Conn.

    Danny Garcia is putting up huge numbers, yet he seemingly has flown under the radar in the Mets organization. Can you please shine some light on him for all of us Mets fans dying for some good prospect news?

    J-P Herdeg

Though Garcia hasn't received much attention before this year, he's really just continuing the offensive production he showed in his first two seasons in the minors. A fifth-round pick out of Pepperdine in 2001, he hit .308/.402/.465 (that's batting average/on-base percentage/slugging) in his pro debut in short-season ball and low Class A, then .273/.369/.403 in the pitcher-friendly high Class A Florida State League in 2002. This year, he has batted a combined .308/.366/.416 between Double-A and Triple-A, slowing down, especially in terms of power, after his promotion to Norfolk.

Garcia, 23, hits for average with some doubles power and draws a fair amount of walks. His speed and glovework are solid. He's not going to be a star, but he could start at second base for a decent club or serve as a utilityman. I doubt the Mets will move Wigginton back to second base, because if they though he could handle the defensive responsibilities they never would have shifted him to third base in the first place. Rey Sanchez and Jay Bell have gotten the first two starts since Alomar was traded, but it would make much more sense to give Garcia an opportunity to show what he can do. If he can get back on track after hitting .248 in June, the Mets likely will do just that.

    Joe Mauer is considered by many to be the best prospect in the minor leagues. Fellow catcher Dioner Navarro is following in his shadow, as both have been promoted from the high Class A Florida State League to the Double-A Eastern League this year. Navarro is a 19-year-old switch-hitter and is hitting .298 for the season. How would you rate him in comparison to Mauer and as a prospect? Where do you think he rates right now among catching prospects?

    Jeff Wildfogel
    Los Altos, Calif.

I'd put Mauer No. 1 on my minor league list, so it's not fair to put Navarro in his class. But he's a fine prospect who has made a lot of progress this year, batting .298/.365/.455 between Tampa and Trenton. He's similar to Mauer but doesn't do things quite as well. Both guys have hit for average and have yet to tap into their home run potential, both control the strike zone well and both are effective at stopping basestealers (Navarro has a 36 percent success rate this year).

Signed out of Venezuela in 2000 for $260,000, Navarro has made a lot of progress at the plate in 2003 after batting a combined .252/.333/.374 in his first two years. BA's Josh Boyd will unveil his impressively detailed catching rankings in the newest installment of his Scouting Department on Thursday. Navarro ranks ninth on Josh's list, which seems quite fair to me.

    Has Cole Hamels surpassed Gavin Floyd as the Phillies' top prospect or Scott Kazmir as the top lefthanded prospect in the minors? It's a tough question considering it's only eight starts into Hamels' minor league career, but he has been absolutely sensational.

    Don Smith
    Lakewood, N.J.

    I understand that it's the Phillies' organizational philosophy to move players along one level at a time, but at what point does it become detrimental to allow a player to dominate like Cole Hamels is? I would think it would be better to challenge him, not to let him cruise for an entire year when he could be learning more at another level.

    Brandon Kochkodin
    Minersville, Pa.

Hamels has been sensational in his pro debut, after he signed late last summer for $2,000,000 as the 17th overall pick in the 2002 draft. Just 19, he has gone 3-0, 0.82 with a 72-18 strikeout-walk ratio and .140 opponent average in 44 innings. His low-90s fastball, curveball, changeup and command all have been as good as advertised. Some teams considered Hamels the best pitcher in the 2002 draft, and he's done nothing to make them look bad.

I'd still put Floyd and Kazmir ahead of him because they've proven themselves a little bit longer and also have dominant stuff, but the gap is very narrow. And considering Hamels' age and his medical history (he broke the humerus in his pitching arm three years ago in an off-field accident), I see no reason to push him in 2003. It's a lot either to ruin a youngster's confidence than it is to build it up, and I'd let him pitch 120 innings or so in low Class A. If he gets 150 innings next year in high Class A, he could skip a level at some point in 2005 and reach Philadelphia by the end of the season—at age 21. That's still plenty early.

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