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By Jim Callis

Jan. 26, 2006

Several of you have emailed to ask whether Andy Marte will be our Indians No. 1 prospect, topping an organization for the third time this offseason. He ranked as the best player in the Braves system, then was traded to the Red Sox for Edgar Renteria in December.

The Coco Crisp trade has been put on hold because of Cleveland's concerns about Guillermo Mota's health, so Marte won't join the Tribe in time to headline our Indians rankings. The AL Central Top 10s have gone off to the printer, and righthander Adam Miller gets top billing in Cleveland. But if Marte had been dealt, he would have been No. 1 and achieved a triple that's believed to be unprecedented in BA annals.

This is a good question, but the answer is an easy one for me. Given my choice, I'd take Wright over Zimmerman.

Zimmerman gets the edge defensively, as any scout who discusses him calls him a future Gold Glover and there's even some possibility he could play shortstop. But Wright is also a good defender and I think he'll be better at the plate in the long run. While both players project as .300 hitters, Wright has more power. I see him as a 35-homer hitter, and Zimmerman as more of a 20-25 homer guy. Wright also will draw more walks.

Zimmerman should be at least an above-average regular and likely a perennial all-star. But Wright has a chance to be one of the game's elite players, and he could make that leap this season.

    As a Brewers fan, I've been in some discussions about the struggles of Dave Krynzel. One of the things I've done is look at the 2000 first-round draft class and discover that Krynzel, even with his troubles, might still be one of the better first-round picks. Chase Utley is obviously the class of the first round, but no one else has made much of an impact. Does the 2000 draft have the worst group of first-rounders ever? If not, which draft does?

    Robert Reineke
    Wauwatosa, Wis.

For years, 1975 has had the reputation of the worst draft ever, and things started to go bad right away in the first round. Danny Goodwin (Angels) went No. 1 overall for the second time in four years, and had only a brief major league career. The best first-rounder, by far, was Rick Cerone (Indians), followed by Dale Berra (Pirates) and Clint Hurdle (Royals). The best pitchers turned out to be Chris Knapp (White Sox) and Bo McLaughlin (Astros).

Just 12 of the 24 first-rounders reached the big leagues, and none of them ever played in an all-star game. The Nos. 2 through 5 picks all fell short of the majors: Mike Lentz (Padres), Les Filkins (Tigers), Brian Rosinski (Cubs) and Rich O'Keefe (Brewers). There was some talent found in later rounds, led by Andre Dawson (Expos, 11th round), Lee Smith (Cubs, second) and Lou Whitaker (Tigers, fifth).

It's too early to know for sure, but as bad as 2000's first round looks, it should be able to surpass 1975's. Utley (Phillies) and Rocco Baldelli (Devil Rays) look like they'll have at least solid careers as big league regulars. No. 1 overall pick Adrian Gonzalez (Marlins, since traded to Rangers and Padres) could as well. After that, it drops off, with the next-best position players being extra outfielders Joe Borchard (White Sox), who got a then-record $5.3 million bonus, and Krynzel. Sean Burnett (Pirates) and Adam Wainwright (Braves, since traded to the Cardinals) are the best pitchers, though Burnett has had Tommy John and labrum surgery in the last year, while Wainwright has yet to prove much above Double-A.

To date, 12 of the 30 first-rounders from 2000 have reached the majors. A few more have a shot in the next couple of years. So while Krynzel has been a disappointment, the Brewers actually made out pretty well compared to other clubs.

The Dodgers still can sign Hochevar, the 40th overall pick last June, up until a week before the 2006 draft, but I doubt that's going to happen at this point. He switched agents on Labor Day weekend and agreed to a $2.98 million bonus (more than Zimmerman got as the No. 4 overall choice), then switched back, reneged on the deal and accused the Dodgers of trying to rip him off.

Hochevar is the highest unsigned selection from the 2005 draft, but Los Angeles won't get a compensation pick if he doesn't come to terms. Only first-round choices merit a pick at the end of the sandwich round, and he's a supplemental first-rounder.

As for Young and Jansen, Young checked in at No. 15 on our Dodgers Top 30 in the 2006 Prospect Handbook, while Jansen didn't make the cut. Young is a line-drive machine with good pop, and he'd be a better prospect if he showed more aptitude at second base. But he's pretty rough at that position and looks like he's headed for left field.

Don't read too much into Jansen being left off the Top 30. He does have some promise, but the Dodgers have the best farm system in baseball and not every prospect could make it. Signed out of Curacao in November 2004, Jansen offers intriguing power potential at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. Staying behind the plate would enhance his prospect status, but his bat is far and away his best tool and he may have to move to first base.

Jan. 20, 2006

Two stories I've gotten sick of hearing about:

Theo Epstein and the Red Sox. Was he a good general manager? Certainly. Is he at least a little overrated? Yeah, probably. Why did he leave the team on Halloween? We still don't have a real explanation. Was he ever really gone? Not sure. What's his new role? The Red Sox will let us know next week. Is it a positive for the club that he's officially back? Sure. But enough already.

The World Baseball Classic. It's becoming more apparent that this is going to be little more than a glorified exhibition, what with players being in less than peak game shape, pitch counts and all the ridiculous roster machinations. Putting Mike Piazza on Italy and David Aardsma, Dan Haren, Kirk Saarloos on the Netherlands is a transparent attempt to help weaker teams with no regard to the fact that these players are and never have been anything other than U.S. citizens. Haren is one of a few players who is on more than one provisional roster at this point.

And I would gladly read another 100,000 words on the Epstein saga if Alex Rodriguez would just stop talking. I may have lost track of part of the chronology, but he was going to play for the United States, then the Dominican Republic, then neither because he didn't want to disrespect either nation, then the Dominican again and now the United States again. Throughout it all, Rodriguez maintained his knack for making self-serving comments. His latest: "At the end of the day, with my status in the game, it was important for me to participate," Rodriguez said."We need participation from all our key players and Iím one of those guys."

    With Mike Pelfrey finally getting signed by the Mets, would you rank him as the top pitching prospect in that system even though he has yet to throw a pitch in professional ball? Will he most likely be sent to high Class A St. Lucie, and how soon do you think before he makes it to the majors?

    Mike Yoon
    Flushing, N.Y.

    Just curious how you guys think the Mets Top 10 Prospects look now after the Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca deals and the Mike Pelfrey signing. I figure Pelfrey fits in at No. 2, everyone else slides up and that leaves you with eight prospects leaving open slots at Nos. 9 and 10.

    Brad Houser

Pelfrey is definitely the top pitching prospect in the Mets system, and one of the best in the game. Remember, when we rank prospects, we're looking at long-term value. We do consider a player's track record, and though Pelfrey has none to this point in pro ball, he's easily the best pitcher among Mets farmhands. He really doesn't have much competition, as 2004 first-rounder Philip Humber is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Brian Bannister had a nice 2005 season, but his ceiling is as a No. 4 or 5 starter, while Pelfrey could become a No. 1 or 2.

As part of my relentless plugging of the 2006 Prospect Handbook—which should arrive from the printer within the next week—I'll treat you to our Pelfrey scouting report:

Baseball America's top-rated pitching prospect in the 2005 draft, Pelfrey received consideration from the Diamondbacks as the No. 1 overall choice. Arizona ultimately chose Justin Upton, and other teams were wary of Pelfrey's price tag, so the Mets were able to nab him with the ninth pick. He held out until January and was the last first-rounder to sign. Pelfrey received a club-record $3.55 million bonus as part of a four-year major league contract worth a guaranteed $5.25 million. Easily attained roster bonuses could push the value of the deal to $6.6 million, and there are performance and award incentives as well. Pelfrey starred for three seasons at Wichita State, going 33-7 with a 2.18 ERA that broke Darren Dreifort's school record. Shockers pitching coach Brent Kemnitz called him the best pitching prospect in school history, a rich tradition that includes seven other first-rounders. Pelfrey suffered from draftitis in 2002, when he entered his high school senior season as a projected first-round pick, but that wasn't the case last year. He blew away hitters consistently with a 92-97 mph fastball that's as notable for its sink as for its velocity. He's adept at getting grounders or strikeouts, depending on the situation. He has refined a straight changeup that will be a plus pitch and keeps lefthanders in check. He also has tightened his curveball and become more consistent with it. Add in a perfect pitcher's frame, good control and a competitive makeup, and there's not much to quibble with. Pelfrey likely will start his pro career at high Class A St. Lucie and may not need much more than a year in the minors before he's ready for New York.

We included Pelfrey in a special appendix in the Handbook, as he signed too late to be included on our Mets Top 30. But I do agree with Brad that if he had, Pelfrey would have ranked No. 2 behind Lastings Milledge. The rest of New York's Top 10, in order, would be: Humber, outfielders Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez, shortstop/second baseman Anderson Hernandez, Bannister, righthanders Alay Soler and Deolis Guerra, and lefty Jon Niese. Because we didn't include Pelfrey on the list in the book, first baseman Brett Harper was No. 10 on that one.

    In 1966, the Braves made Tom Seaver their first-round draft pick out of the University of Southern California. For some reason, the commissioner voided Atlanta's rights to him and opened bidding to other teams. Three teams anted up and their names were thrown into a hat. The commissioner picked the Mets and the rest, as they say, is history. What were the crazy circumstances that went into this decision?

    Paul R. Raybold
    Seminole, Fla.

Seaver, who had turned down the Dodgers as a 10th-round pick in 1965, was selected by the Braves as the 20th and final pick of the first round of the secondary phase of the January 1966 draft. That February, he signed with Atlanta for $40,000.

However, Seaver wasn't eligible to sign because Southern California already had begun its college season. Commissioner Spike Eckert voided the contract, fined the Braves $500 and barred them from signing Seaver for three years. Though Seaver never received any money from Atlanta, he had signed a pro contract, costing him his NCAA eligibility.

Eckert ruled that Seaver had signed a contract in good faith and that it was the Braves' fault that it had to be invalidated. As a result, Eckert set up a special draft for him. Any team willing to at least match the $40,000 bonus could enter a drawing for his draft rights.

The Indians, Mets and Phillies were the only clubs to do so, and Eckert picked a slip of paper that said "Mets" out of a hat on April 2. Seaver signed with New York the next day for $51,000 and launched a Hall of Fame career by winning the National League rookie of the year award in 1967.

    I'm hoping the near-major league-ready prospects in the Dodgers system (Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, Joel Guzman and Co.) are simply overshadowing the prospects Los Angeles got in the Shawn Green trade. Will we ever hear anything from William Juarez, Danny Muegge and Beltran Perez again, or will that end up being a bad Paul DePodesta move? The Dodgers also got an average major league catcher in Dioner Navarro and gave the Diamondbacks $10 million.

    Brian Davis
    Fresno, Calif.

Let's just say that DePodesta won't be listing that trade high on his résumé. I wouldn't even call Navarro an average big league catcher, because I don't see him as an everyday player. But to be fair to DePodesta and the Dodgers, the main goal they were trying to accomplish was dumping Green's salary, and they did save $6 million.

In return, they got Navarro and three fringe pitching prospects. Juarez and Perez have strong right arms, but they're not very polished and don't have deep repertoires. Muegge is a finesse righty with just decent stuff and a good idea of how to pitch. These guys might somehow find their way to the majors as middle relievers, but they aren't going to be major contributors.

Jan. 12, 2006

Last Thursday was a sad day for baseball. Rod Dedeaux died at age 91 in Glendale, Calif.

Dedeaux is best known for winning a record 11 College World Series championships, but he did so much more than that. John Manuel detailed Dedeaux' many accomplishments in our obituary last week, so I won't repeat them all here. He played briefly in the majors and started a multimillion-dollar trucking company before becoming head coach of the Trojans, where he won five straight titles from 1970-74 and sent 59 players to the majors, including Randy Johnson, Mark McGwire and Tom Seaver. Dedeaux had as much to do with making baseball an Olympic sport as anyone.

He also was one of the best ambassadors the game has had on any level. I've been to the last 17 College World Series, and every year I'd bump into Dedeaux at some point. Always alert, he'd be tooling around with his baseball-bat cane and calling people "Tiger." He'd always make a nice comment about Baseball America and be up on all the current baseball events. He took great pride a few years ago when I did a big feature that concluded he was the best college coach ever, and more pride in former player Mike Gillespie restoring the USC program to national prominence. One year, he compared my oldest son's pitching delivery to Seaver's, and my son will never forget that. Nor will I. I always enjoy the CWS—it remains my favorite baseball event, and I take my sons every year—but I won't enjoy it as much without Dedeaux.

While researching a column for the current edition of the magazine, I discovered that Texas has just pulled off the sixth double baseball-football national championship at the highest level of college competition in the same year. The others: Minnesota in 1960; Southern California in 1972, 1974 and 1978; and Miami in 2001. Sometime I'll have to track down how many athletes played on both championship teams.

The compensation draft picks for free agents are nearly complete. The lone remaining free agent requiring compensation is Jeff Weaver (Type A), formerly of the Dodgers. Here's the up-to-date list:

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. Nationals (from Angels for Type B Hector Carrasco)
28. Red Sox (from Yankees for Type A Johnny Damon)

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

Second Round
50. Braves (from Dodgers for Furcal)
52. Padres (from Orioles for Hernandez)
53. Cardinals (from Giants for Morris)
55. Indians (from Rangers for Type B Kevin Millwood)
56. Indians (from Cubs for Howry)
57. Orioles (from Blue Jays for Ryan)
71. Braves (from Yankees for Farnsworth)

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

Third Round
82. Red Sox (from Dodgers for Mueller)
85. Diamondbacks (from Giants for Worrell)
88. Giants (from Cubs for Eyre)
89. Marlins (from Blue Jays for Burnett)

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

Finally, the 2006 Prospect Handbook has gone to the printer, so Ask BA will return to its regular once-a-week schedule for the rest of the year.

    With Justin Upton signing and Chris Young arriving via trade, where do they slot into the Diamondbacks Top 10?

    Joon Pahk
    Cambridge, Mass.

Though he has yet to make his pro debut because he just signed for a draft-record $6.1 million, I'd put Upton on top of the loaded Arizona Top 10. He might not stick at shortstop, but I've had too many scouts tell me Upton could be the next Ken Griffey Jr. in center field, and I like him more than Stephen Drew. In fact, had he signed before we sent the Prospect Handbook to the printers, I would have ranked Upton No. 2 on my overall Top 50 Prospects list, between Delmon Young and Brandon Wood.

Young is supremely talented as well. I liked him more than any prospect in the White Sox system (though Bobby Jenks will be No. 1 in the Handbook) before the Javier Vazquez trade, and he made my Top 50 list at No. 24. Yet that would only put him fifth on a revised Diamondbacks Top 10, behind Upton, Drew, Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin.

No team in baseball has five prospects as good as Arizona's. And it doesn't stop there, as No. 6 Carlos Gonzales is one of the best outfield prospects in the lower minors and one scout told me No. 7 Dustin Nippert was the best pitcher he saw in the minors last year. Throw in catcher Miguel Montero, righthander Garrett Mock and 2005 draft picks such as righties Matt Torra and Micah Owings, and the Diamondbacks have one of baseball's elite farm systems.

Ethier ranked No. 4 on our Athletics Top 10 before the trade, but there's a huge difference in the strength of those two farm systems. Oakland's has thinned out after they promoted Huston Street, Joe Blanton, Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson to the majors last year, while no organization has more talent in its system than Los Angeles.

I've always been lukewarm about Ethier, seeing him as more of a fourth outfielder than a regular on a good big league team. The Dodgers are so deep that I wouldn't put Ethier on the Top 10. I'd insert him at No. 13, behind first baseman James Loney and righthander Justin Orenduff.

Ethier's scouting report won't appear in our magazine, because of the timing of his trade and our schedule for the Top 10s. Below is our Ethier writeup from the Prospect Handbook. If you like this stuff, there are 899 more player reports like this one in the Handbook.

Background: Ethier was having a breakout season in 2004 when a stress fracture in his back cut him down in July. He spent the offseason working on his conditioning and earned Double-A Texas League MVP honors in 2005. He hit .361-9-39 in the first two months before pitchers stopped throwing him strikes.

Strengths: A gifted hitter, Ethier has simple swing mechanics, getting the bat into the zone quickly and keeping it there for a long time. He has average power, and he's a good corner outfielder with a solid arm. One of the keys to his breakout season was a change in attitude. Once considered a hothead who was easily flustered, he showed a more mature approach and consistent effort in 2005. He also won an award for his sportsmanship in the Arizona Fall League.

Weaknesses: Ethier doesn't have the speed to play center field and may not have the power teams desire from an everyday corner outfielder. He can become enamored with his power at times, causing him to overswing. A walk machine in college, Ethier has yet to show the same plate discipline as a pro.

The Future: There's no clear opening for Ethier in a crowded Oakland outfield, so he likely will spend the majority of 2006 in Triple-A. Coming off a career year, he also could be useful as trade bait.

    With the recent trade of highly touted prospect Chris Young to the Diamondbacks for Javier Vazquez, I was wondering if any team has dealt away more prospects than the White Sox over the last five years. Could you do a Top 10 list for the prospects the Sox have traded away?

    Scott Reimers
    Springfield, Ill.

Kenny Williams became White Sox general manager in October 2000, just when we began work on our first Prospect Handbook. By my count, Williams has traded 21 players who have appeared on Top 30 Prospects lists in the Handbook, and that doesn't include six others who had lost their prospect status by playing too much in the majors by the time they were dealt (Rocky Biddle, Matt Ginter, Gary Glover, Jeff Liefer, Miguel Olivo, Josh Paul). I didn't take the time to check every club, but that total has to be one of the highest, if not the highest, in baseball.

Williams was Chicago's farm director before becoming GM, so you might think he would have been more attached to his prospects than most of his counterparts. But Williams explained the reasons for his willingness to part with young talent before the 2005 season: "Two words: nineteen seventeen. How many more generations of fans are going to have to wait? I don't want to wait." Obviously, Williams and the White Sox got the job done last year, ending an 88-year drought between World Series championships.

Below is my Top 10 list of traded White Sox prospects, which peters out quickly into question marks and middle relievers.

1. Chris Young, of (December 2005 to Arizona for Javier Vazquez)
Often compared to Mike Cameron, should be better
2. Jeremy Reed, of (June 2004 to Seattle for Freddy Garcia)
Better than advertised defensively, and his bat will come around
3. Gio Gonzalez, lhp (November 2005 to Philadelphia for Jim Thome)
Polished lefty was top pitching prospect in bat-heavy system before deal
4. Josh Fogg, of (December 2001 to Pittsburgh for Todd Ritchie)
Nothing special, but eats innings at back end of rotation
5. Mike Morse, ss (Garcia)
Cooled off after blazing big league start, then got suspended for steroids
6. Daniel Haigwood, lhp (Thome)
43-1 in high school and 32-11 in pro ball, though stuff isn't as good as numbers
7. Matt Guerrier, rhp (March 2002 to Pittsburgh for Damaso Marte)
Emerged in Twins bullpen last year after getting claimed off waivers
8. Gary Majewski, rhp (July 2004 to Montreal for Carl Everett)
Also traded in March 2001 for Antonio Osuna, reacquired that July for James Baldwin
9. Josh Rupe, rhp (July 2003 to Texas for Carl Everett)
Looked good in September, has above-average stuff but needs more consistency
10. Franklin Francisco, rhp (Everett/Texas)
Promising 2004 big league debut ended with chair-tossing incident, had TJ surgery in 2005

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