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January 2006
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By Jim Callis

Feb. 24, 2006

I held Ask BA back for a day to give readers the chance to send in Top 100 Prospects-related questions, and you obliged. We'll get to some of those in a moment.

But first, a couple of follow-up questions regarding last edition's discussion of minor league salaries. Joe Russo (Bethlehem, Pa.) wanted to clarify whether players were paid their monthly salaries throughout the year or just during the season. They get paid from spring training through the end of their minor league season. If they're on the 40-man roster, they'll get paid through the end of the major league regular season.

Jay Levin (Philadelphia) wanted to know how minor leaguers on 40-man rosters are treated. They do make more money on top of the standard $1,500 a month in Double-A and $2,100 a month in Triple-A, and how much depends on factors such as their experience and how many options they've exhausted. Bigger money comes after they achieve six-year minor league free agency and can shop themselves to multiple teams. When they're with the parent club, they earn a prorated share of the major league minimum salary of $327,000.

    In terms of future production at the major league level, how significant will the difference be between Justin Upton's production and Troy Tulowitzki's production? Upton is the better prospect, and both will be playing in hitter-friendly ballparks, albeit with an advantage for Tulowitzki, but I don't think the difference will be very significant. Outside of a stolen-base advantage, I think Tulowitzki will be nearly as valuable to the Rockies as Upton will be to the Diamondbacks, with Tulowitzki being potentially more valuable to Colorado due to the weaker supporting cast.

    Jake Freehling
    Bartlett, Ill.

We ranked Upton No. 2 and Tulowitzki No. 25 on the Top 100, and I think readers perceive that we believe that's a major difference. It's really not. They're both elite prospects. I think Upton will a superstar and Tulowitzki will be a star, and I'd take Upton in a second if I had my choice. But in terms of actual numbers, there shouldn't be a huge difference. Coors Field will help narrow the gap for Tulowitzki, too.

In a typical major league park, when they're in their primes, I can see Upton hitting .300 with 30-35 homers annually, compared to .280 with 20-25 homers for Tulowitzki. Upton probably will draw a few more walks and he's much more of a basestealing threat than Tulowitzki, who's a better defender. He's a lock to stay at shortstop, while Upton stands a good chance of becoming a center fielder.

If you look at each player's relative worth to his team, Tulowitzki might stick out more compared to his lesser supporting cast than Upton will in Arizona, which has the best group of up-and-coming position players that I can remember. The Diamondbacks have six hitters ranking from No. 2 to No. 32 on the Top 100. But while evaluating prospects, that's not really a consideration. I care about the guy's talent, not about the talent around him.

    I was surprised to see Mets righthander Mike Pelfrey placed as low as No. 36 on the Top 100. With all of the praise being lavished upon him by Mets officials already and given his physical stature, I'd be curious to know why you didn't rank him higher. Was it merely inexperience?

    J.P. Schwartz
    Springfield, Ill.

Most of the time when we rank players without pro experience, the reaction is the exact opposite, that we're fools for placing them so high when we don't have any meaningful statistics to evaluate. But my answer in that case is the same as it is here: We're not ranking players based on experience or inexperience. That might come into play when you're trying to separate two similar guys, but we rate prospects based on their long-term major league impact.

We're not just flying blind on prospects who have yet to make their pro debuts. With college products, such as Pelfrey, we've followed them for three years at that level and most likely before that as well. Even with a high schooler such as Upton, we've been talking to scouts about him for 3-4 years. We have plenty of information on those guys that compensates for a lack of statistics in pro ball.

We ranked Pelfrey as the ninth-best pitching prospect in baseball, behind only Francisco Liriano, Chad Billingsley, Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, Jon Lester, Bobby Jenks, Scott Olsen and Joel Zumaya. It basically came down to stuff. Pelfrey has a 92-97 mph fastball, but the eight pitchers ahead of him all have comparable heat and/or are lefthanded.

The biggest thing that separates those guys from Pelfrey right now is their breaking stuff. Pelfrey's curveball is pretty ordinary, while the others all have curves or sliders that range from above-average to just plain nasty. We didn't penalize Pelfrey for his inexperience, but the eight pitchers ahead of him also have proven themselves at Double-A or higher.

    If Kansas City had left Justin Huber at the catcher position, where would he have ranked in the Royals Top 10 at that position? Would he have ranked higher on the Top 100 Prospects list? For that matter, how much does skill at a position go into the rankings?

    Mike Slayden
    Kansas City, Kan.

A player's position and his skill there play a huge part in our rankings. If Huber could catch, the scarcity of talent behind the plate would make him a much more valuable player than he is as a first baseman. I see him as a .280 hitter with 20-homer power, and there are a lot more first basemen than catchers capable of putting up those numbers. To use another Royals example, Billy Butler would rank higher had he been able to stay at third base or had a much of a chance to stay in left field, rather than looking like a future DH.

Huber has some arm strength, but his lack of receiving skills and poor footwork hampered him as a catcher. He hurt his left knee in a home-plate collision while still with the Mets, and the Royals decided to expedite the development of his bat by moving him to first base after acquiring him in the Kris Benson trade two years ago.

If Huber was a decent catcher, he still wouldn't have ranked ahead of Alex Gordon or Butler on our Kansas City Top 10. But rather than ranking at No. 84 on the Top 100 as a first baseman, he'd be a lot closer to catchers Jeff Mathis (No. 60) and Kenji Johjima (No. 66).

Feb. 16, 2006

Several of you have emailed to ask when we'll release our 17th annual Top 100 Prospects list. We finalized it today and we'll release it on our website next week. It also will be in an issue that will be mailed to subscribers next week.

Am I allowed to tell who made the Top 100? Absolutely not. If I did, editor in chief John Manuel would race from Durham and general manager Kevin Goldstein would speed from Chicago to see who could kill me first.

But I will give you small bit of information . . . the five players who came the closest but ultimately missed the cut. They are:

105. Brent Clevlen, of, Tigers
104. Yunel Escobar, ss, Braves
103. Yovani Gallardo, rhp, Brewers
102. Colby Rasmus, of, Cardinals
101. Joaquin Arias, ss, Rangers

Other than that, my lips are sealed.

If minor leaguers are going to get rich, they're going to do so via their signing bonuses. They don't make much in terms of salary.

I talked to officials with two clubs to ask what they paid their minor leaguers, and they use similar scales. Players make roughly $850 a month in short-season and Rookie leagues, $1,000 a month in low Class A and $1,100 in high Class A. They get about $1,500 a month in Double-A and $2,100 a month in Triple-A. If a player repeats a league for a second year, he might get a $100-$200 raise.

Minor leaguers fare a little better when they qualify for six-year free agency. At that point, free agents in demand can command $10,000 to $15,000 per month for playing in Triple-A. But that's still a far cry from the annual major league minimum salary of $327,000.

    I was surprised to see that outfielder Wladimir Balentien had been left off of the Mariners Top 10 Prospects list. Last year, Baseball America rated him as Seattle's No. 10 prospect and their best power-hitting prospect as well. All Balentien did last year at high Class A Inland Empire was hit .291 with 38 doubles and 25 homers for a slugging percentage of .553. What more did he need to do in order to crack Seattle's Top 10?

    Terry Hsu
    Bellevue, Wash.

Balentien didn't miss by much. I put him at No. 11 on our Mariners Top 30 list in the 2006 Prospect Handbook.

While Terry is accentuating Balentien's positives, I took a more well-rounded look at him. His light-tower power is very intriguing, and he also has a strong arm and average speed. But there are also some concerns about Balentien, who turned 21 at midseason.

Chief among them is Balentien's discipline at the plate or, rather, his lack of it. He swings from his heels and tries to pull the ball out of the park every time up, making no adjustments for the situation and with little regard as to whether the pitch is in the strike zone. He struck out 160 times and walked just 33 in 121 games. There also are questions about his conditioning and effort.

When we rank a prospect, we're blending his ceiling and his likelihood of reaching that ceiling, his tools and his track record. It's not a pure science, and there's some gut feel involved. Based on my discussions with scouts, my gut feeling is that Balentien's approach won't work at upper levels. For that reason, I put righthanders Emiliano Fruto and Clint Nageotte and catcher Rob Johnson on the end of the Top 10, and left Balentien off.

    What draft pick(s) do the Dodgers get in return from the Angels for the signing of Jeff Weaver?

    Charlie Smith

Because Weaver was a Type A free agent, the Dodgers will get the Angels' first-round pick (26th overall, which previously was ticketed for the Nationals as compensation for Type B free agent Hector Carrasco) and a supplemental first-round choice (first in line at 31st overall).

Weaver was the last remaining free agent who required compensation, so here's how all the draft-pick shuffling has played out:

First Round
18. Phillies (from Mets for Type A Billy Wagner)
21. Yankees (from Phillies for Type A Tom Gordon)
22. Nationals (from Athletics for Type B Esteban Loaiza)
25. Angels (from Indians for Type B Paul Byrd)
26. Dodgers (from Angels for Type A Jeff Weaver)
28. Red Sox (from Yankees for Type A Johnny Damon)

Supplemental First Round
31. Dodgers (for Weaver)
32. Orioles (for Type A B.J. Ryan)
33. Giants (for Type A Scott Eyre)
34. Diamondbacks (for Type A Tim Worrell)
35. Padres (for Type A Ramon Hernandez)
36. Marlins (for Type A A.J. Burnett)
37. Phillies (for Wagner)
38. Braves (for Type A Kyle Farnsworth)
39. Indians (for Type A Bob Howry)
40. Red Sox (for Damon)
41. Yankees (for Gordon)
42. Cardinals (for Type A Matt Morris)
43. Braves (for Type A Rafael Furcal)
44. Red Sox (for Type A Bill Mueller)

Second Round
51. Braves (from Dodgers for Furcal)
53. Padres (from Orioles for Hernandez)
54. Cardinals (from Giants for Morris)
56. Indians (from Rangers for Type B Kevin Millwood)
57. Indians (from Cubs for Howry)
58. Orioles (from Blue Jays for Ryan)
70. Nationals (from Angels for Type B Hector Carrasco)
72. Braves (from Yankees for Farnsworth)

Supplemental Second Round
75. Indians (for Type C Scott Elarton)
76. Cardinals (for Type C Abraham Nunez)

Third Round
83. Red Sox (from Dodgers for Mueller)
86. Diamondbacks (from Giants for Worrell)
89. Giants (from Cubs for Eyre)
90. Marlins (from Blue Jays for Burnett)

Fourth Round
119. Twins (from Cubs for Type B Jacque Jones)

Feb. 9, 2006

The International Olympic committee rejected a bid to reinstate baseball to the 2012 London Olympics yesterday by a 46-42 vote. Though disappointed, baseball officials have expressed hope that their sport can make it back in 2016. But the creation of the World Baseball Classic, even if it winds up being nothing more than a glorified exhibition, makes Olympic baseball and its lack of major leaguers even less relevant. I wonder if that will make it more difficult to get baseball back into the Olympics.

    I was looking over the Diamondbacks Top 10 list again and really questioned why Conor Jackson was rated ahead of Carlos Quentin. When you look at the stats, Quentin wins in all of them except for batting average. I also read that Quentin is a good fielder and has an excellent work ethic. I know that Jackson has great pitch selection, but Quentin's is pretty good too. I'm not trying to take anything away from Jackson because he's a great player, but why was he rated ahead of Quentin?

    Rick Blenk
    Freeport, Maine

When I did our Triple-A Pacific Coast League Top 20 in the fall, I also put Jackson ahead of Quentin. To quibble with Rick for a second, Quentin doesn't best him in all the stats. Though Jackson hit just eight homers at Tucson, his strikeout-walk ratio is clearly superior (69-32 to 72-71), a lot more doubles (39 in 93 games versus 29 in 136) and, despite hitting just eight homers, similar isolated power (.199 to .219). But statistics aren't the reason I made that decision.

There's both an art and a science to prospect ranking, and in truth, in a lot of cases, there's no single correct answer. Rick likes Quentin more than Jackson and that's easily defensible. Quentin has a track record of hitting throughout the minors, more established home run power at this point and more defensive ability. Quentin should be a solid right fielder and may be an adequate center fielder, while Jackson is just a first baseman.

But I think we'll ultimately judge both players on what they do at the plate, and I think Jackson will be the more productive hitter of the two after talking to several PCL managers and scouts. Jackson has an innate gift for identifying the type and quality of a pitch seemingly as it leaves a pitcher's hand, and I think he'll turn a lot of his doubles into homers as he gets comfortable in the major leagues. One scout told me, "You get the feeling he's going to get a hit every time up. There's not a pitch he can't hit. He has great hand-eye coordination and great feel for the barrel of the bat. He must have Superman vision or something."

Kevin Goldstein did our Arizona Top 10, and I asked him why he went with Jackson over Quentin. Kevin said:

"When talking to scouts about them, more (but not an overwhelming majority) preferred Jackson's bat. They thought both would be above-average major leaguers at their position, but I found more people who saw Jackson as a potential star."

And just to clarify, because this comes up from time to time, BA's prospect lists reflect more than just the opinion of the writer (or of the team). John Manuel and I go over the lists carefully and usually tinker with them.

    Last year in the Jered Weaver negotiations, the Angels called Scott Boras' bluff by refusing to meet his excessive demands. In the end, I believe that Boras realized that Weaver, just like Matt Harrington, wouldn't command the same signing bonus after sitting out a whole year, so they took the money. Do you get the sense that this is the Dodgers' thinking in the Luke Hochevar negotiations, or were they really put off by his backing out of the deal they reached on Labor Day? From Hochevar's perspective, does he or Boras believe that if they go back into the draft, they can get more than the $2.98 million that they left on the table?

    Gerardo Ruvalcaba
    Los Angeles

    You mentioned in the Jan. 26 Ask BA that you thought it unlikely that Luke Hochevar will sign with the Dodgers. Given the acrimony, I can't disagree. Assuming Hochevar doesn't sign, how much will that history taint his status in the 2006 draft? Will he still be considered at the top of the draft? If so, given what would appear to be minimal leverage (lest he reprise Matt Harrington's "career"), do you foresee him being a difficult sign?

    Tod Northman
    Portland, Ore.

I don't think the Dodgers are trying to call any bluff here. After Hochevar switched agents to Matt Sosnick, he agreed to sign for $2.98 million on Labor Day weekend, which would have been the fifth-highest bonus among 2005 draftees. Then Hochevar abruptly returned to Boras, reneged on the deal and claimed that the Dodgers and scouting director Logan White were trying to take advantage of him. At this point, Los Angeles has serious questions about Hochevar's makeup, no desire to pay him more than $2.98 million (the club left the offer on the table for a couple of weeks) and little desire to pay him close to that amount.

I can't believe that Hochevar or Boras could think they're going to get more than $2.98 million at this point. But even if they wanted to take the money now (not that the Dodgers are offering it), it would be a sticky situation for Boras. Sosnick almost certainly would file a grievance saying that he negotiated the deal and should be entitled to the commission.

I also can't envision a scenario in which Hochevar will get the same money in the 2006 draft. After not pitching in a meaningful game since June, he's going to have to get on the mound in independent ball to show teams that the layoff hasn't affected him. Indy ball may not have a lot of future major league stars, but the caliber of hitting in a good league is roughly equivalent to Double-A or Triple-A. There's no guarantee that Hochevar will pitch well, and several clubs cooled on him right before the 2005 draft because they thought his stuff was tailing off a bit. His dealings with the Dodgers also have other teams wondering about his makeup.

It's too early to say where Hochevar will go in the 2006 draft with any precision. Tod is correct in assuming that Hochevar would have minimal leverage, though that didn't stop Boras from advising Harrington to turn down a seven-figure big league contract from the Padres the year after his negotiations with the Rockies went sour. Hochevar's draft status will depend on how he fares against indy hitters and his signability. If he doesn't perform well and/or is vague about his demands or still seeks a big league contract, he could go lower than he did in 2005 (40th overall), when he was considered the second-best starting pitcher available.

Even if Hochevar immediately regains his 2005 form, I can't see teams taking him ahead of North Carolina's Andrew Miller or Daniel Bard, Missouri's Max Scherzer or Southern California's Ian Kennedy unless he wants to cut a below-slot deal, like Wade Townsend did as the No. 8 overall pick last June.

    How would you rank the following young third basemen: Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Alex Gordon, Andy LaRoche, Andy Marte, Ian Stewart, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman. Would you agree that third base could experience a golden age over the next 10 years that shortstop did in the late 1990s and early 2000s?

    Richard Newman

This is also a flashback to the Jan. 26 Ask BA, when I was given my pick and chose Wright over Zimmerman. There are a lot of impressive young third basemen in the majors and minors these days, and third base may be the strongest position (relative to its normal level of talent) on the diamond right now.

Based on big league career value, I'd rate those players in this order: Wright, Cabrera (headed back to the hot corner after spending most of 2005 in left field), Gordon, Stewart, Marte, LaRoche, Zimmerman and Encarnacion. Just to give you an indication of how strong that group is, I see Encarnacion as a .280/20-homer hitter in the majors, and he comes in last. Gordon, Stewart, Marte, LaRoche and Zimmerman all made my personal Top 50 Prospects list in the 2006 Prospect Handbook, as did another third baseman, Brewers 2005 first-round pick Ryan Braun. Also watch out for the Dodgers' Blake DeWitt, who should make a LaRoche-like leap in 2006.

Feb. 2, 2006

As far as I can determine, two of this year's Super Bowl participants were former baseball draft picks—and both were multiposition college stars who now play wide receiver for the Steelers. The Marlins took Hines Ward as a Georgia high school outfielder in the 73rd round in 1994, the same draft in which they blew their top pick on future NFLer Josh Booty. In 1997, the Cubs spent their 14th rounder on Illinois prep outfielder Antwaan Randle El.

That's also my Super Bowl prediction: Pittsburgh by two.

    Andy Marte has been the key piece in two major deals this winter. How does a top talent like that get dealt not once, but twice in an offseason? He's clearly a major prospect, but it just seems strange that hed get shipped out twice. Is there something that the Braves and Red Sox see that may indicate he may not live up to the hype?

    Alan Florjancic
    Kenosha, Wis.

The two Marte trades, for Edgar Renteria in December and a six-player deal that sent Coco Crisp to Boston in January, were more about filling needs for the Braves and the Red Sox than those clubs giving up on him.

Chipper Jones is entrenched at third base for Atlanta, which desperately needed a shortstop after losing Rafael Furcal to the Dodgers via free agency. The only possible opening in the Braves lineup is in left field, and Marte has yet to play the outfield in five years as a pro.

Similarly, the Red Sox needed a center fielder and targeted Crisp. They would have preferred to deal a starting pitcher to get a center fielder, and they reportedly discussed sending Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo to the Mariners for Jeremy Reed, and Clement to the Reds in what would have been a three-way deal with Cleveland. But that didn't work, and they have Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis, so dealing Marte meant they could upgrade their 2006 club.

A couple of years ago, Marte was on a very similar development track as Miguel Cabrera. I wouldn't put him in Cabrera's class now, but he still has the chance to be at least a star with his bat, power potential, plate discipline and defensive skills. We've begun working on our annual Top 100 Prospects list, and I put Marte at No. 14 on my personal rankings.

    How does Jairo Garcia's recent admission that he's really Santiago Casilla and nearly three years older than originally thought affect his status on BA's upcoming Oakland prospect list?

    Daniel Thompson
    Bristol, England

It actually didn't affect his ranking at all, as we decided to leave him at No. 7 after the news came out that he's 25 and not 22 as previously believed. The main reason behind our thinking is that he's nearly big league ready and almost a finished product, and that makes a difference in evaluating him. His status would take a huge hit if he only had conquered high Class A, but Garcia/Casilla has pitched in the majors the last two years and spent most of 2005 in Triple-A. That's good progress, even for a player of his revised age.

The bottom line is that Casilla has two pitches that have a chance to be well above-average in his upper-90s fastball and his slider. He needs to improve the control of his pitches and his emotions, and once he does he'll be in Oakland to stay. He has closer stuff, though he may have to settle for setting up Huston Street with the Athletics.

One question that hasn't been answered is when Casilla will be allowed to enter the United States. He'll have to get his paperwork back in order, and there's supposed to be a tougher crackdown on players who didn't come forward when visagate first broke four years ago.

    I was paging through Baseball America's 1990 draft book and there was mention that during the Ben McDonald negotiations, he considered signing with a new baseball league. Do you recollect the circumstances around this league that was never formed? Was this to be a USFL-type league?

    Michael Haddock
    Chandler, Ariz.

Though 1989 was my rookie year at Baseball America, I had forgotten all about this until Michael brought it up. The Orioles and McDonald, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1989 draft, came to a standstill in negotiations during the summer. Baltimore was offering a contract worth $750,000, which would have been the second-highest in draft history to that point, but McDonald wanted a $1.1 million deal. As you might imagine, with Larry Lucchino bargaining for the Orioles and Scott Boras representing McDonald, there was no shortage of rhetoric.

A proposed new league, for which few details were available but supposedly had the financial backing of Donald Trump, reportedly offered McDonald a package worth a guaranteed $1.2 million and as much as $2 million. In the end, McDonald signed with Baltimore for an $824,000 contract that included a $350,000 bonus.

How real was the league? We may never know. It had no television contract, and many of the cities that were frontrunners in the race for Major League Baseball expansion franchises declined interest in getting teams in the upstart circuit. Agent Dick Moss' name was attached to the new league, and there was speculation that it was just a bargaining ploy with baseball's collective bargaining agreement getting ready to expire.

In his autobiography, "Stranger To The Game," Hall of Famer Bob Gibson says it would have been known as the Baseball League and that he might have been named commissioner. Gibson says the league was short-circuited when CBS paid MLB a record $1.06 billion for its television rights, giving the owners more than enough money to bleed any new competitor to death.

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