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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

Feb. 25, 2004

I've been getting a lot of questions about the 2004 Prospect Handbook and the Top 100 Prospects list, so let's get those out of the way first.

The Handbook is back from the printer and was mailed out last week. Those of you who ordered directly from Baseball America already are receiving your books. The Handbook also should start appearing in bookstores by mid-March.

We've completed our 15th annual Top 100 list, which will appear in the issue that will go to the printer tomorrow and wind up in subscribers' hands next week. GM Kevin Goldstein anticipates posting the list on the website on Friday. As always, print subscribers get free access to all of our web content.

    When BA talks about lefty prospects in the minors and how they rank, how come you only talk about guys like Greg Miller, Scott Kazmir, Adam Loewen and Cole Hamels? Young lefties like Andy Sisco, Justin Jones, Sean Burnett and Mike Gosling are incredibly talented themselves but seem to get slighted. How come, especially with Sisco and Jones? I'm not knocking Miller, Kazmir and those guys, but I believe based on ceiling, potential and sabermetric analysis, Sisco and Jones belong in the same conversation.

    Christopher Keller
    Prattville, Ala.

Let's start off with a sneak preview of the Top 100 Prospects list. Fourteen lefties made it, and here's how they ranked:

 8. Greg Miller, Dodgers
12. Scott Kazmir, Mets
13. Adam Loewen, Orioles
17. Cole Hamels, Phillies
56. Justin Jones, Cubs
60. Mike Hinckley, Expos
63. Travis Blackley, Mariners
64. Sean Burnett, Pirates
67. Scott Olsen, Marlins
69. Manny Parra, Brewers
77. Andy Sisco, Cubs
80. John Danks, Rangers
82. Dan Meyer, Braves
93. Jeff Francis, Rockies

Christopher is correct that we rank Miller, Kazmir, Loewen and Hamels well ahead of the field, though I would disagree that we slight the other guys. What separates the top four southpaws from the others is that they have better stuff and/or have proven themselves, at least briefly, in high Class A or above.

I like Jones and Sisco a lot, having covered them when I analyzed both the low Class A Midwest League and the Cubs in 2003. Jones, who will pitch in high Class A this year at age 19, is one of the best-kept secrets in baseball. A 2002 second-round pick, he has an 89-94 mph fastball and a plus curveball. He pitched just 71 innings last year because he came down with a tired arm, and that knocked him down the Top 100. If he makes it through all of 2004 and pitches like he did a year ago, when he had a 2.28 ERA, 87-32 strikeout-walk ratio and .215 opponent average, he'll move up the Top 100. At this point, he has to improve his command and his changeup, which isn't unusual for a teenager.

Sisco, another youngster at 20, is very intriguing but needs more polish before we zoom him up the Top 100. A 2001 second-rounder, he's 6-foot-9 and throws 92-94 mph. His curveball, changeup and command are inconsistent, but if he improves in those areas, look out. Last year, he had a 3.54 ERA, 99-31 K-BB ratio and .220 opponent average in 94 low Class A innings. He missed two months last year, albeit with a broken hand and not arm problems.

    You've now done two columns dealing with the top five farm systems in the game, and the Devil Rays didn't enter the discussion either time. Roughly, where do the Rays rank? With Delmon Young, B.J. Upton and Joey Gathright, I'd think they're in the top 10 or not far from it. They don't have many if any marquee pitching prospects, so that surely brings them down a few notches.

    Gus Papadopoulos
    Clearwater, Fla.

These questions are related to the previous two Ask BAs, which are below on this webpage, and started with a question asking me to rank the top five farm systems in the game. I want to reiterate, just to make this clear, that these were my personal rankings (which were, in order: Brewers, Braves, Twins, Dodgers, Angels) and not the consensus BA rankings that appear in the Prospect Handbook and also will be discussed in our upcoming Minor League Preview issue.

I ranked the Devil Rays system as the 10th-best in the game, and pretty much for the reasons that Gus mentioned. As I've said the last two weeks, I value impact players more than depth, though I consider both. No team has a pair of impact players like Upton and Young, who will be the best prospects in the minors on Opening Day. I wouldn't put Gathright in their class, though he does have intriguing speed and on-base skills. I'm not blown away by Tampa Bay's pitching, and its depth is slightly above average but not outstanding. Still, I can't ignore Upton and Young, and that's why I put them 10th.

    I don't find too many problems with your top-five-system rankings, aside perhaps from the fact much emphasis is placed on top prospects and not as much on depth. I am a Rangers fan and depth is something the Rangers seem to have, a situation strikingly different from previous years when Texas was top-loaded but thin. Yet you or BA never seem to rank the Rangers in the top 10, even when the system had guys like Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira and Laynce Nix. What gives?

    Eric R.G. Belin
    New Orleans

The exact balance between impact players and depth often is debated among the BA staff. I've made my feelings clear on the subject. I believe teams win with stars, not by having a bunch of average players and no holes. In fact, I talked to someone in player development today and asked him what he valued more.

"Impact players are more valuable than depth," he said. "I would much rather have a couple of star players and nothing than depth of slightly above-average players."

We've been pretty high on the Rangers recent years, and they've frequently cracked our top 10. They ranked eighth in 1999, seventh in 2000, 13th in 2001 and eighth in 2002. They dipped to 19th in 2003 and this year we've put them at No. 16.

Personally, I ranked Texas 24th, the lowest among the BA staffers who determined our list. Another of us, who values depth over impact players, put them as high as 12th.

I'm not a huge Adrian Gonzalez fan. I think he'll hit for average but question his power and wonder if he's going to be more than a Mark Grace—a good player but not a difference-maker. I like John Danks, but he's a few years away from the majors and I want to see him in full-season ball before I get overly excited. I want to see Juan Dominguez and Ramon Nivar do it again before I fully jump on their bandwagons.

I don't see a single guy who looks like a sure bet to be a multiple all-star, and outside of Danks I don't see a potential No. 1 or 2 starter. That's why I rated the Rangers as low as I did.

    Just wondering what separates Alfonso Soriano in this overly offensive era, from a young and budding Juan Samuel from a not-so-offensive era? Both have speed, power, and can't play defense.

    Paul Diersing
    Long Beach

There are some parallels, but this isn't really fair to Soriano. They both were outfielders masquerading as second basemen, but Soriano is significantly better player.

According to the always-useful, Samuel had exactly one season where his ballpark-adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage was 10 percent above his league. He was +16 percent in 1987 at age 26. Samuel was a big league regular for eight years, and his average league-adjusted OPS +/- was 0.

Soriano has been a regular for three years. He was minus-8 at age 25, +31 at age 26 and +27 at age 27 last year. He has been far better than his league than Samuel ever was. Samuel collapsed after his age 26 peak, while Soriano hasn't and I don't expect him to drop off markedly in the near future. Soriano makes better contact than Samuel did, and his walk rate spiked upward in 2003.

Soriano might not be Alex Rodriguez and he's a butcher at second base, but he's a pretty good hitter.

Feb. 18, 2004

While most of the baseball world is concerned about A-Rod and BALCO, we here at Ask BA are concerned with identifying the strongest farm systems in baseball. In last week's edition, I ranked the top five in this order: Brewers, Braves, Twins, Dodgers and Angels. That prompted a flood of questions about organizations which didn't make my cut.

    Jim, perhaps your memory had a temporary failure, but you forgot a farm system that is a top-five system in anyone's book: the Indians. Pretty much every publication I have read has put the Indians system among the top two or three, and they are eons ahead of the Dodgers! Tell me, were you mistaken or did you accidentally put the Dodgers where the Indians should have been?

    Dave Gould
    Akron, Ohio

    I saw your list of the top five farm systems, and was wondering where you would rank the Indians. I hear that Cleveland has a lot of depth. What stands out from those other five teams compared to the Indians? How do you rank the Indians' pitching prospects compared to those other five teams?

    Jason McCormick
    Akron, Ohio

Though being the father of four young children takes its toll on my memory from time to time, rest assured that I didn't forget about the Indians. Last week I mentioned that while our organization rankings take in account both quality and quantity, I put more emphasis on quality. Major league teams win with stars, not because they're merely competent across the board.

Cleveland has as much prospect depth as any team in baseball, though the clubs in my top five aren't lacking either. What separates them from the Indians is their players with star potential. A few of us created our personal Top 50 Prospects lists for the 2004 Prospect Handbook, and here are my Top 50 players from the pertinent clubs:

Brewers: Rickie Weeks (4), Prince Fielder (5), J.J. Hardy (15), Brad Nelson (33)

Braves: Andy Marte (11), Jeff Francoeur (47)

Twins: Joe Mauer (1), Justin Morneau (14)

Dodgers: Edwin Jackson (6), Greg Miller (8), Franklin Gutierrez (35), James Loney (38)

Angels: Casey Kotchman (12), Jeff Mathis (18), Ervin Santana (23), Dallas McPherson (30)

Indians: Grady Sizemore (9)

Cleveland has a lot of solid to good players, but I think only Sizemore will be very good to great. I ranked the Indians system as the seventh-best in baseball after putting them No. 1 a year ago. For them to rank that high is pretty amazing considering that seven of their Top 10 Prospects from a year ago lost their rookie/prospect status in 2003 and no longer qualify: Brandon Phillips, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee, Travis Hafner, Ricardo Rodriguez, Billy Traber and Jason Davis.

The Indians' pitching compares favorably to the other clubs I ranked ahead of them. Cleveland doesn't have a Jackson or Miller or Santana, but Jeremy Guthrie, Fausto Carmona, Jake Dittler and Fernando Cabrera lead a deep group of mound prospects.

    I was surprised to see that the Pirates weren't among your top minor league systems. Each of their minor league affiliates made the playoffs last year and they were severely raided in the major league Rule 5 draft. Perhaps that loss of talent was the reason they dropped in your rankings. What are your thoughts on the Pirates farm system?

    Jack Kilbride

While the Pirates system is on the way up and yielded five of the first six picks in December's Rule 5 draft, I wasn't close to putting them in my top five. I like their depth, but I ranked them 12th for two main reasons. I don't see any true impact players and it's very pitching heavy.

I didn't have a Pittsburgh prospect on my Top 50, though righthander John VanBenschoten just missed at No. 52. He's the best prospect in the system, and he profiles as a No. 3 starter. Before everyone jumps on me because they think I'm ripping him, I'm not. If VanBenschoten becomes a solid No. 3 starter in the majors, that's a tremendous accomplishment. He has good but not great stuff.

Outfielder Jason Bay and middle infielder Freddy Sanchez are two of my favorite position-player prospects in baseball—that's "favorite" and not "best"—but I just see them as good regulars in the majors, not guys who are going to carry a team. They're the two best hitters in the system, and while guys like catcher Ryan Doumit and outfielder J.J. Davis have some upside, they also have some question marks as well. Ten of Pittsburgh's 15 best prospects are pitchers, and there's a much higher attrition rate with pitchers than hitters.

The Rule 5 losses didn't affect my rankings much. None of the players they Pirates lost ranked among their 10 best prospects, so they lost depth more than true difference-makers.

    I noticed you left the Blue Jays out of your top five farm systems in baseball. Toronto has a plethora of young talent in its system and I was led to believe that they had one of the top three farm systems in baseball. They have impact-caliber players such as Dustin McGowan, Gabe Gross and Guillermo Quiroz, as well as a nice assortment of future big leaguers such as Jason Arnold, John-Ford Griffin and Russ Adams. That's not to mention the best outfield prospect in the game, as anointed by BA, Alexis Rios. Why is it that the Jays don't crack your top-five list, and where would you rank them?

    Graeme Paterson
    Newmarket, Ontario

Not to nitpick, but Tampa Bay's Delmon Young is the best outfield prospect in the game. I ranked the Blue Jays eighth, right behind the Indians. I had Rios (10), McGowan (17) and Quiroz (41) on my Top 50, and I like their depth a lot too. I just thought that in terms of quality and quantity, they weren't quite as good as the teams I had ahead of them.

That said, Toronto has the most potential to keep climbing up the rankings in 2004. Quiroz has to show that his 2003 breakout offensively wasn't a fluke. Gross must show more home run power. Righthander Francisco Rosario needs to complete his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Shortstop Aaron Hill has to hit like he can in full-season ball. David Bush needs to come up with a true out pitch, while fellow righty Vince Perkins has to show better command. All of those things have the potential to happen, in which case an already strong system will look that much stronger.

Feb. 11, 2004

Just four more days until the first official workout of spring training. Devil Rays pitchers and catchers will start reporting on Saturday and take the field on Sunday. Did this offseason pass quickly or what?

    Which farm systems would you consider to be the top five in baseball as of right now?

    Will Cobb
    Fort Smith, Ark.

One of the most enjoyable exercises involved with the 2004 Prospect Handbook comes at the end, when we rate the organizations. The BA consensus will be revealed in the book as well as in our Minor League Preview issue in mid-March, but I'll share my opinion on the top five.

I based my rankings on the quality and quantity of talent in each system. Given my choice between the two, I'll side with quality over quantity every time. Also, if two systems are close, I'll take the one with more hitting prospects because they're more likely to pan out than pitchers.

1. Brewers. Milwaukee has legitimate prospects at every positions, and at least one blue-chipper at most. No team can match their crop of up-and-coming hitters, led by Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Brad Nelson. The pitchers (Manny Parra, Mike Jones, Ben Hendrickson et al) aren't bad either.

2. Braves. Atlanta has a nice balance of bats and arms, and a little more depth than Milwaukee. The Braves can't match the Brewers impact player for impact player, though Andy Marte is the best third-base prospect in the game.

3. Twins. Bud Selig was wrong about Minnesota being an aberration. The Twins have so much talent coursing through their system that they can manage their payroll by letting go of veterans and inserting homegrown players. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, J.D. Durbin, Jesse Crain and Grant Balfour are ready to contribute to what should be a third straight American League Central title.

4. Dodgers. Los Angeles has gone in the exact opposite direction from "Moneyball," While many teams have shifted their focus to college players, the Dodgers happily have scooped up high-ceiling high schoolers with their draft picks. Just one member of our LA Top 10 Prospects list came from a four-year college, while prepsters such as Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller and James Loney have excelled after being put on the fast track.

5. Angels. Anaheim's banner 2001 draft (Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson) has drawn a lot of attention, overshadowing the club's international efforts. The Angels have signed Ervin Santana, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Rafael Rodriguez out of the Dominican Republic in the last four years.

    I noticed a couple of recent transactions this past month that interested me, and I was hoping you could shed some light on the players involved. First, Brad Cresse was traded to the Expos, and second, Scott Heard was placed on the voluntarily retired list. Did either of these moves come as a surprise, and is Cresse still a prospect any more?

    Andrea Olson
    Champaign, Ill.

Cresse is a lukewarm prospect at best these days, and he didn't make the cut for the 2004 Prospect Handbook despite joining the worst farm system in the game. He hit 17 homers in 48 high Class A games after signing as a fifth-round pick in 2000 out of Louisiana State, but Cresse hasn't hit with nearly that much authority since. He had a solid year in Double-A in 2001 before dropping precipitously the last two years, including a .229/.282/.402 in Triple-A in 2003. Cresse is a mediocre catcher, so he'll have to produce a lot more than that to get a shot in the majors.

It seems shocking now that Heard was considered in the mix for Florida's No. 1 overall selection in 2000. He hit just .292 that spring at Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego, leading to great concern about his bat. Those concerns proved well-founded after he signed with the Rangers as the 25th overall pick. Heard hit just .245/.341/.360 as a pro and batted just .226 in full-season leagues.

I'm not shocked that the Diamondbacks designated Cresse for assignment and then traded him for a player to be named, because he had been surpassed by several catchers in their organization. Heard's decision was more of a surprise. I didn't see him becoming a big league regular, but with his catching prowess and ability to draw walks I thought he had a chance to carve out a career as a backup.

    What's the scouting report on Francis Beltran from the Cubs? He was the closer for the Dominican Republic's Caribbean Series championship team, over big leaguers Guillermo Mota and Felix Rodriguez. Is it foolish to think that his being selected as closer means that he's presently a superior pitcher to Mota and Rodriguez? Could he find a spot in a fairly strong 2004 Cubs bullpen? The fact that he's absent from your Cubs Top 10 Prospects list makes me wonder whether his performance this winter is a bit of a fluke or if he's finally figured something out.

    Ryan Becker

Though Beltran was the MVP of the Caribbean Series, earning a win and three saves as the Dominican went 5-1, I wouldn't say he's better than Mota and Rodriguez right now. That said, Beltran is a very good relief prospect. He has a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider, and he seems to have shaken off the triceps tendinitis that ruined his 2003 season.

Beltran didn't make the Cubs Top 10 list I wrote, in part because Chicago has a deep system and in part because he missed half of last year. My guess is that he'll open the year in Triple-A. Joe Borowski, Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, Kent Mercker and Mike Remlinger already have bullpen spots locked up with the Cubs. Juan Cruz (if he's not the fifth starter) and Todd Wellemeyer also rank ahead of Beltran in the pecking order at this point.

    Manager Jimy Williams' announcement that Tim Redding would go into spring training as Houston's fifth starter reminded me about Carlos Hernandez. It seems like his name hasn't been mentioned much in a while. Was that the same Carlos Hernandez pitching for Magallanes this winter? If it was, the numbers make it seem like he has recovered nicely. How has his progress been and what is the outlook for him?

    Dave Hamrick
    Mansfield, Ohio

Indeed, that was the same Carlos Hernandez who went 3-1, 4.21 in eight starts with Magallanes in Venezuela, striking out 39 in 36 innings. After missing all of 2003 following surgery to repair the rotator cuff and labrum in his left shoulder, Hernandez was back throwing in the low 90s and hitting the strike zone this winter.

With the offseason additions of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, the Astros don't have any openings in their rotation. Hernandez could claim a spot in the Houston bullpen in spring training, but he would be best served by going to Triple-A and getting some regular, low-pressure innings for a month or two. It's tougher to come back from shoulder surgery than elbow surgery, but the prognosis looks promising for Hernandez.

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