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Ask BA

By James Bailey

If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com.

June 29, 2000

So, the crazy day has finally arrived. Mr. Rocker goes to New York. What's the over-under on how many Duracells get smuggled into Shea this weekend? I suppose the whole thing might be interesting if we weren't quite so tired of hearing about the Rocker story over and over for the last six months. We finally have some hope that the Elian Gonzalez saga will fade away from the front page, but I really am not so optimistic with the Rocker circus.

A couple of years ago, a fellow BA staffer witnessed an exchange between then-Richmond lefthander Rocker and some fans at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The fans were ragging him about something, perhaps the way he relaxes by doing challenging calculus equations to pass the time in the bullpen. Finally, after Rocker had heard just about enough, he replied to the fans something along the lines of, "A pox on you, my friends. But soon I shall be pitching in the major leagues and perhaps you will watch me on your television. I'm going to try earnestly and make a fine career for myself, while you remain here harassing other innocent baseball players."

That might not have been the exact quote, but it went pretty much along those lines. I believe our friends up at Shea will be in for more of the same this weekend.

As for the rest of us, it's time for some Ask BA. And we'll start with a question that is obviously on a lot of people's minds, because I've seen it from at least four people this week.

    I'm a big Dodgers fan, and I have been waiting for the short-season leagues to start. The reason being is that I can't wait to see Jason Repko in action. To my surprise the league started last week and he hasn't appeared in any of the box scores. Is he hurt, or what is the deal? Please help.

    Nicholas Millard
    Manteca, Calif.

Repko missed time with a hamstring tear this spring and the Dodgers are bringing him along slowly at Yakima in the short-season Northwest League. He's day-to-day and will probably return to the lineup sometime in the next week, but the Dodgers want to be cautious to avoid having him reinjure his leg.

    Any predictions on players you think will have monster second halves?

    Thanks,
    Kevin

I really have to think that several of our highly ranked prospects who have struggled thus far will break out, but that's kind of taking the cheap way out. So, without relying on Sean Burroughs, Corey Patterson and Vernon Wells, I'll look for players who weren't ranked among the first 10 in our Top 100 Prospects list--like No. 11 Dee Brown.

Brown has already started to heat up, and his resurgence seems to have been sparked by a late-May suspension where the Royals sent him back to extended spring training for a few days. He returned to action June 1 and is hitting .301 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in the month of June. I think he will continue to hit like that throughout the second half because he is simply a better player than he showed over the first two months.

I would be surprised if righthander Adrian Hernandez did not dominate the Eastern League, assuming he's left at Double-A Norwich long. El Duquecito is 4-1 with a 4.18 ERA there after five starts and has struck out 38 in 28 innings. He should just be getting back into his groove about now after not playing since he defected from Cuba in the winter.

Shortstop Felipe Lopez and second baseman Mike Young have both been holding their own at Double-A Tennessee thus far this season, but they are capable of much better. Lopez is hitting .256 with six homers and 23 RBIs after making the jump from low Class A Hagerstown. He has cut down some on his strikeouts, but he's also proving very difficult to walk. After drawing 61 bases on balls last year, Lopez has just 11 this season. If he can find a little more patience in the second half the rest of his offense should improve. Young is hitting .286 with six homers and 46 RBIs. Last year he batted .313 in the Florida State League and stole 30 bases.

I'm not sure about monster second halves, but I'd expect to see some pretty good numbers from several others as well, like Triple-A Charlotte outfielder McKay Christensen, Double-A New Haven outfielder Jake Weber, Class A Macon second baseman Pat Manning, Class A Savannah righthander Ryan Dittfurth and Rookie-level Kingsport shortstop Enrique Cruz. The Mets pushed Cruz to Class A Capital City to start the season, but he struggled there, hitting .185 in 157 at-bats. The No. 7 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season, he gets a fresh start at Kingsport and should benefit from the exposure to some better pitching earlier in the year.

    In the second round of the 1999 draft the Brewers selected catcher Kade Johnson. I heard they signed him but I cannot find his name anywhere in their organization or any other. Can you give me any info on where he is?

    Rbrazgel@deltamed.net

Johnson reported to spring training with a rotator cuff injury. He had surgery this spring and is expected to miss the entire season.

    Earlier in the year, I had heard that Phillies prospect ReggieTaylor was going to miss the season with an injury. Now I see that he's back up and playing for their Triple-A affiliate and doing quite well. Can we consider this a break-out year yet?

    Fred
    Royal Oak, Mich.

Taylor is hitting well at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, batting .336 with 17 extra-base hits (six doubles, five triples, six homers) in 134 at-bats. That part looks great. The 26-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, however, does not.

Taylor has always been a tools guy, and his slow march through the Phillies system looks like it might finally end with him becoming a major league player. There have been several times that looked like it might not be the case since he was drafted in the first round in 1995. But for him to really arrive, he's going to have to start showing better control of the strike zone and take a walk more than once a week. And if he doesn't start drawing free passes at a significantly higher rate, I'll predict he finishes the season with a sub-.300 average (probably somewhere near the .266 he hit last year).

    I am looking for some information on Nate Grindell. How old is he? What do you think about him? His stats look really good.

    Tom

Grindell, 23, signed as a nondrafted free agent with the Indians in 1998 after attending Hill (Texas) JC. Last year at short-season Mahoning Valley, he batted .315 with 20 doubles, five homers and 47 RBIs in 267 at-bats. This year he's showing even better power with 20 doubles and 15 homers in 287 at-bats at Class A Columbus. He's hitting .296 and ranks among the leaders in the South Atlantic League with 60 RBIs.

I really don't know a whole lot else about Grindell, except that he likes birds. If you want to learn more about his favorite pets, check out this story from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

June 27, 2000

We're back on a normal schedule around here this week, with no all-star games or drafts to interfere with the production of Ask BA. And that means the column is ready before lunchtime. That's always the goal, but it often doesn't get met for whatever reason. There's a lot going on around here most of the time.

But today, here it is. Four questions, four answers. It's time for lunch. See you Thursday.

    I was wondering what you thought about Calgary first baseman Nate Rolison. He has shown improvement at every level. He also has begun to hit for power. Maybe more importantly he has cut down significantly on his strikeouts. Could he be an impact player? He is nowhere to be found on any of your top prospects lists.

    Thanks
    Matt Jahn
    Milwaukee, WI

Rolison has improved significantly as he's climbed through the Marlins system. A second-round pick in 1995, he's shown moderate power throughout his career, though he's always been projected as a guy with outstanding power potential. Strikeout totals of 170, 143 and 150 from 1996-98 overshadowed much of his production. Last year he cut his strikeouts to 112 and drew a career-high 68 walks while hitting .299 with 17 homers and 69 RBIs at Double-A Portland.

This year he's taken things a step further, hitting .325 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs in 206 at-bats. He's also drawn 36 walks against just 40 strikeouts. So a guy who had a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over a three-year period, has cut that down to an outstanding 1-to-1 ratio.

In an organization where many of the top prospects have had trouble controlling the strike zone, Rolison's accomplishment should not be overlooked. Had his drastic improvement come a year earlier, he might have had a shot to beat out Derrek Lee for the first-base job this spring. But Lee instead fended off Kevin Millar and has actually improved his game quite a bit this season, cutting down on his strikeouts while increasing his walks. I thought at one point he would never be able to do that, but he looks like he has, at least through the first half of this year.

Will Rolison become an impact player? I'm still not sure I'd go with that description, but I guess that depends on your definition of "impact player." When I hear those words I think five-tool superstar. I think Rolison will really have to hit for big-time power to become an impact player at first base. He might be able to do that.

    I have a couple questions about Milwaukee farmhand Jose Mieses. First, based on sheer numbers he may be the minor leagues' premier pitcher! He is 10-2 with an absurd strikeout-to-walk ratio and an ERA that has been below 2 most of the year. That being said what can you tell us about this guy, I have read on this site before that he has great control, knows how to pitch, yeah that is obvious--he doesn't walk batters, Ray Charles could tell me that! What does he throw, how hard does he throw it, age, demeanor, etc.?

    Second, is this kid on the fast track because I just don't know how much more he can gain by pitching at low A? I know one of your pet peeves from reading your column is the premature movement of prospects but what is continuing to obliterate hitters going to do for him? Should a challenge (a la the rapid advancement of Ben Sheets) be in order for this guy? Even to high A, not suggesting the majors or Triple-A but this seems counterproductive. Any thoughts appreciated.

    JTHermansen@aol.com

It's funny you should mention Ray Charles, because I was talking to him the other day. While slurping down Pepsi, he gave me a scouting report on Mieses. Ray said Mieses locates his fastball very well, but the key to his success is his ability to throw two breaking pitches for strikes. Mieses, 20, throws a solid curve, and uses a palmball for his changeup. He generally is able to ride one of them throughout a game, even if the other isn't working that night. His fastball is not overpowering, but it works well for him because of the location and the way he's able to mix in the breaking balls.

You might think that the Brewers would want to rush him along through the system since they are so thin on pitching prospects. But they are taking the exact opposite approach, figuring that they have little room for error with their top prospects and they want to take a cautious approach with Mieses' development. You know I don't mind seeing a guy get that full year in low Class A, so I like the Brewers approach here. I disagree that it's counterproductive to keep a guy in the Midwest League for a full season. Every young pitcher has something to work on, even in low Class A. I don't mind the rapid advancement with older prospects like Sheets, but what's the rush with the young guys?

By the way, just to give credit where it's due, my Ray Charles scouting report actually came from Tom Haudricourt's Brewers organization report that appeared in Baseball America a couple of issues ago.

    The BA Minor League Transactions are reporting a lot of releases of players. It strikes me as odd that organizations would be releasing players so soon after the start of minor league seasons. Is there a pattern here, for example, clearing minor league rosters now that the draft has been held and the organizations are getting a better idea of who this year's players will be from the lowest levels on up to Triple-A? So that some players will have to be released at, say, Double-A to make room for players who originally had been pegged at Class A for 2000? Or is it as simple as a reality that there will be releases of players from minor league contracts each week of the baseball year?

    Thanks,
    Tom McCullough
    York, PA

There are a few definite danger periods for players in jeopardy of being released. One is right after the season ends. Another, and easily the biggest release time, is toward the end of spring training. And the third danger zone comes in June, after the draft.

Once the draft is held and teams begin signing new players, they have to slot out all of the guys who were previously on some nebulous short-season rosters in extended spring training. Teams can reserve up to 35 players on every short-season roster throughout the offseason, but once those leagues begin play, the active limits drop to 25 for short-season Class A and 30 for Rookie-level teams.

Additional players can be kept on the disabled list, up to the reserve limit of 35.

Of course, the organizations have just added numerous players from the draft and someone has to go. So some players who didn't show much in extended spring get their walking papers, as do others at higher levels throughout the organization.

Several teams seem to use their short-season rosters during extended spring training as free parking to get them extra roster spaces for their full-season clubs. This practice must not be technically illegal, though I have to think the commissioner's office would want to discourage it in some way.

It's kind of curious how certain teams keep "sending" their starting pitchers to extended spring training after each start. The players aren't actually going anywhere except onto a short-season roster until their next start. Once June rolls around and the short-season rosters get filled up with players who will actually play in short-season leagues, the organizations can no long float extra players out there like that. That means someone needs to get cut.

The players who get let go in spring training are really more fortunate in many ways. They still have a chance to hook on with one of the independent leagues, etc. But for the players who are released in June, it's difficult to line up another job because all of the other leagues have begun and the other 29 organizations are all in the same boat as the one they just were released by.

    Which state do you feel is best for playing ball if you're going the Junior College route, Texas or stay in California? From the position of where would I get most Division I or pro scout exposure. California has an overload of talent, so it's hard to get noticed.

    Jrtailoff@aol.com

It might seem like it's hard to stand out in California, with so many other good players around, but look at the flip side of that and think about how many scouts there are to see all of those players. It's not uncommon to read a story about a young player who says he first got noticed because scouts were coming to see one of his teammates. With the juco programs out in California, I'd have to think there are more scouts at those games than there would be anywhere else in the country, except maybe Florida.

Texas has some fine jucos as well, but if you're already in California, it seems like it wouldn't make much sense to leave. Plus, your mom probably wants to see you pitch a few times.

June 22, 2000

There really was going to be a column on Tuesday. Really. In fact, it was nearly finished on Monday night down in Charleston, S.C. But I was using a laptop and not my familiar computer and I stupidly didn't save the file correctly. Then Tuesday morning, I went to open it and finish it off and ended up writing over everything and wiping out about two hours worth of work. Needless to say at that point it was too late to redo it all and there was no Tuesday Ask BA.

Whenever something like that happens I'm always reminded of the line near the end of "A Christmas Story," when the neighbor's dogs have torn into the kitchen and destroyed the turkey. As the family is standing around in shock, Ralphie's dad just matter of factly says, "Okay, everybody get dressed. We're going out to eat."

I got over my shock pretty quickly and went out to eat Tuesday (but not to a Chinese restaurant), to the South Atlantic League all-star luncheon at Charleston Place. That was terrific. Sure, John Henry Moss went on a little too long, but other than that the lunch was great. Then the pregame festivities at the park were great, and the game was great (at least the last couple of innings were) and the post-game party was pretty good. To sum it all up, I had a lot of fun down there and I'm not one bit sorry that you didn't get a column on Tuesday.

As for my observations from the game, here are a few:

• Augusta outfielder Lew Ford can absolutely fly. It's funny how you develop a mental picture of guys based on their name and stat lines. Then you see them in real life and they don't look anything like you expected. Ford doesn't look real fast in street clothes but, boy, is he ever speedy. He ripped a ball into left field and as I generally do, I followed the ball before looking back to the infield to pick up the runner. I expected to see Ford somewhere in the vicinity of first base, but he was already cutting the bag at second, and cutting it perfectly. He made it to third easily. I heard a rumor that he was getting promoted to Double-A Trenton after the game, so maybe that was his last appearance in an Augusta uniform.

• Josh Hamilton really is as nice as everyone says he is. He was still down on the field signing autographs when I left the stadium, and several other players had already showered and were getting on the bus. That's not a knock on them, because every player seemed willing to sign autographs for anyone who asked. It's more just a credit to Hamilton.

• Joseph P. Riley Jr. Ballpark is a nice facility and a really tough place to hit home runs. That doesn't make for a high scoring home run hitting contest, but it was still entertaining. You just couldn't take for granted that any ball, no matter how hard it appeared to have been hit, was going to get out. It's not the dimensions of the stadium that causes that. It's the wind, which seems to be constantly blowing in.

• Charleston is a cool city and I need to get back there. If you like historic old cities, you will like Charleston.

If you want more from the game, check out our minor league all-star coverage. You'll find updates there from every game that's been played so far, not just the Sally League contest. Now for a few questions.

    I've been searching the Internet to find out where a couple of young draft picks are playing, but to no avail. I'm hoping you can give us some insight. We've all heard about Rick Asadoorian, but to be so highly touted I can't seem to find him on a minor league roster. I even went to the Lowell Spinners Webpage; they've got an updated 2000 roster but he's not on it. Is there a chance he'll play the second half in the South Atlantic League? The other player in question is Expos pitcher Josh Girdley. Thanks for your time and consideration.

    Steve Williams

Asadoorian is playing in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. I'd say there is probably not much chance he will be in the South Atlantic League this year, though sometimes young players who perform very well in Rookie ball are called up to a full-season league for the last week of the season.

Girdley is on the Vermont roster in the New York-Penn League.

    Do you have or could you get your hands on Ron Guidry's minor league stats?

    Thanks,
    Bill

Guidry began his career with Johnson City in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 1971 and played six seasons in the minors, half of them as a reliever. Here are his numbers

TeamW-LERAGIPHBBSO
Johnson City, '712-22.11747342761
Ft. Lauderdale, '722-43.821566535061
Kinston, '737-63.2120101857097
West Haven, '742-45.263777805379
Syracuse, '756-52.904262463776
Syracuse, '765-10.682240161350

Interestingly, after his unbelievable showing as a reliever in '76, he reverted back to the rotation as a rookie in 1977 and quickly became one of the best in the American League.

    Before the year, BA had Xaviar Nady ranked as a possible No. 1 pick. It turned out that he went in the middle of the second round. Did his stock drop that much, did BA over-estimate his worth, or is it simply a matter of him being a difficult signing? If he will be tough to sign, has San Diego given any indication of whether or not they're going to offer first-round money? Does Nady's future look like first base, since the Padres organization is all set to coronate Burroughs at third base for the next decade?

    Michael Dominguez
    Oshawa, Ontario

Nady's stock seemed to dip a little as the year progressed, but that doesn't account for him slipping to the second round. Strictly on talent, he should have gone somewhere in the 8-15 pick range. His fall was based on money and the fact that he wanted a major league contract.

Nady is believed to be looking for something in the neighborhood of $3 million, plus the big league deal. It's unlikely the Padres are going to come anywhere near that. What that means is he'll have to decide toward the end of the summer if he wants to come down in his price or stick to his guns and either go back to school or head for the independent leagues next year.

If Nady does sign, he probably will be moved to first. He did play second as a freshman at Cal, but he's really more of a corner guy now.

    Hi,

    I caught this item on your transactions page (which, by the way, is a great feature because nowhere else can one find such a comprehensive list of player movements.)

    Quad City--Sent SS Francis Alvarez to Hagerstown in the Blue Jays organization in exchange for RHP Mike Romano.

    I'm kind of a fan of Mike Romano, who has established himself as a reliable Triple-A pitcher and strikes me as the type who will get his share of chances in the big leagues if he stays healthy. What can you tell me about Francis Alvarez, and can you speculate on why big league organizations make deals like this (Triple-A player for low-A player)?

    Thanks,
    John Reid

Alvarez, who is actually better known as Jimmy Alvarez, is a 20-year-old Dominican who was batting .224 with four homers and 21 RBIs at Quad City. He was mainly a shortstop last year, but had spent much of this season at second base. He's a switch-hitter with a little pop for a middle infielder, and he's willing to take a walk, as his 81 bases on balls last year indicates.

I'm not sure that Romano really will get his share of chance in the big leagues. He's in his eighth professional season and has three big league games under his belt. He has become a solid Triple-A starter, though, and as guys like Dave Eiland have proven, if you stick at it long enough, someone eventually might give you a chance. At 29, Romano is several years younger than Eiland and he could very well get the call to Minnesota and turn in a couple of solid seasons for the Twins. But if you ask him, he probably won't tell you that he's gotten "his share" of callups to this point.

Realistically, Romano is the kind of pickup that most teams make in the six-year free agent market each winter. He was, in fact, a six-year free agent last winter and re-signed with the Blue Jays. The Twins picked him up now to help fill out their rotation at Salt Lake.

I'd look at this trade as two teams trying to fill some organizational holes by swapping a couple of players who have a shot at the big leagues but aren't regarded as top-notch prospects. Teams swapping players to fill holes in the minor leagues is not uncommon. In fact, towards the end of spring training every year, there are a dozen players dealt for "future considerations" or players to be named, just because one team has too many players at a certain position and another needs someone to play a certain role on one of its farm teams.

June 15, 2000

I've seen a few questions this week about draft signings and when we're going to have those. The answer is, soon. Very soon. Like tomorrow. Some teams have already signed 20-25 picks, while others have barely a dozen under contract. But the short-season leagues get underway tomorrow with the opening of the Pioneer League season and there should be some sense of urgency for most teams to get cracking on the signing front about now if they haven't already. Anyway, look for the first list of signings sometime tomorrow and we should update them every couple of weeks throughout the rest of the summer.

    Talk to me about Timoniel Perez. He is on a tear in Norfolk. What's his minor league background? What's his future?

    Josh Orenstein
    Phoenix, AZ

The 23-year-old Perez played in the Japan Major League from 1996-99. He signed originally with the Hiroshima Carp and played in their academy in the Dominican Republic. His best season in Japan was in 1998, when he batted .296 with five homers and 35 RBIs in 230 at-bats.

This winter he played for Licey in the Dominican League and though he didn't play much during the regular season, he was the regular center fielder on the Dominican squad in the Caribbean Series in February.

The Mets signed the lefthanded-hitting Perez for something in the neighborhood of $300,000 in March and he got a late start on the season. After a short stop at Class A St. Lucie he was moved up to Triple-A Norfolk, where he is hitting .452 in 42 at-bats. Considering his experience level, it's not surprising to see him play well in the minor leagues.

As for his future, Perez has been pegged as a fourth or fifth outfielder. He stands about 5-foot-8 and will make his way by playing the little man's game of speed and defense.

    Did Zeph Zinsman sign as a draft-and-follow with the Mariners and if he did, how much did he get? I didn't see him on your draft-and-follow signing list.

    Wally09@mediaone.net

Zinsman, who was drafted by the Mariners in the 23rd round of last year's draft, did not sign with Seattle. They offered him $100,000, but he wanted substantially more than that, and after what hm did this spring at Mission (Calif.) JC, it's understandable that he felt he was worth more. He hit better than .500 with 18 homers in 165 at-bats and was named the junior college player of the year in Northern California. He also pitched for his team, with a fastball that reaches 90-91 mph. Of course, he wasn't drafted as a pitcher, but he does have arm strength and enough athleticism that he's not just a lumbering first baseman.

Amazingly, Zinsman was not drafted this year, though he was regarded as a 5th- to 10th-round talent. He's!heading to the Jayhawk League this summer and unless he draws enough attention to become this year's version of Bobby Kielty (who went undrafted out of Mississippi in 1998 only to elicit multiple bids after starring in the Cape Cod League that summer), he'll go to Louisiana State.

Mission coach Todd Eagen told me that Zinsman really didn't seem to mind not getting drafted and that he wants to play major college baseball for a year to show everyone what he can do and just experience Division I ball.

    I have been watching Bobby Bradley and Josh Hamilton very closely this year. Both players have looked amazing through most of the first half of the season. Even though Hamilton hasn't hit for much power, do you believe it will explode in the second half of the season? Also when and where do you think Bradley and Hamilton will get promoted? Because I don't see much use for them to stick around in low A-ball and waste their time and my patience.

    Rory

One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing an organization move a player along too fast, which in my opinion ultimately retards his growth. Another is hearing fans clamor for such promotions. There have been so many cases where a player gets rushed through the minor leagues and flops out of the big leagues two years later—when he should just have been arriving in the first place. The player who is so accomplished that he has nothing to gain by a full season at low Class A at age 19 is truly rare indeed. In fact, I'd argue he doesn't exist.

Hamilton is an exceptional talent and there's not much he doesn't do well, but I'm sure he'd tell you himself that he doesn't much care for his 12-to-51 walk-to-strikeout ratio this season. He is definitely capable of hitting for more power as well, and will likely do so in the second half. And Bradley looks dominant when he's twirling his curveball past inexperienced South Atlantic League hitters, but he had his most frustrating outing of the season (and his last before getting sidelined by what the Pirates hope is minor arm soreness) a week and a half ago when the Pirates told him to mix more fastballs in and cut back on his breaking stuff. I had the pleasure of attending that game—a duel between Bradley and Asheville's Chin-hui Tsao—and I can tell you Bradley's curveball is exceptional. But he really did have trouble spotting his fastball and he struggled at times in that game.

I'm not saying that Hamilton and Bradley would be adversely affected by a jump to high Class A at the midseason break (next week). In fact, they've earned the opportunity to move up to the next challenge. But it's ludicrous to say that they are "wasting their time" in the South Atlantic League.

And I hope you were kidding about your patience, because that's really the least of anyone's concern. What's the rush? Did you draft them onto your fantasy league team? The average player takes 4-5 years to get to the big leagues from Rookie ball, and the majority of big leaguers take 2-3 years to establish their level of performance. So seven years from now you can enjoy your minor league superstar as he leads your squad to the championship. Assuming that he makes it and your league is still together. I'm not sure which of those has the longer odds.

    I have a question about the status of a couple of Oakland A's prospects that I'm hoping that you can answer. What has happened to Kevin Miller, who was the A's third-round draft pick in 1998? In addition, another 1998 draft pick, Donato Calandriello, has not appeared in any box scores this year.

    Regards,
    Marc

I turned to our longtime Athletics correspondent Casey Tefertiller for help with these questions and he came through as I knew he would. Miller has yet to play this year because of the same ankle problem that kept him out all last season. It has just never healed correctly and he's not able to play on it.

Calandriello hasn't pitched this season because of a shoulder injury. He's not expected back any time real soon. It's a shame, because Tefertiller says the lefthander was throwing well in spring training before going down.

    I saw your column and am wondering if you can help me on this baseball rules question. The people I have asked are split on their opinions on this one, and I need to find out what the real answer is: Runners on second and third, one out. Batter hits a fly ball to right field. Runner at third tags up, but the runner at second does not tag up. Right fielder makes the catch and throws the ball in. After the runner on third has tagged up and safely crossed home plate, the ball is thrown to the second baseman who tags second base. The runner on second is ruled out for not tagging up, this is the third out of the inning. Does the run count?

    Thanks for your reply,
    Bill Cole
    Milwaukee, WI

The run counts because the out was not a force and the runner on third scored before the out was recorded at second base.

June 14, 2000

Hope everyone enjoyed the Justin Wayne chat yesterday afternoon. It sort of made up for the lack of a Tuesday Ask BA (of course it kind of caused the absence of the Tuesday Ask BA because instead of having the time to write the column, I had to run the chat). People still got to ask questions, I just wasn't the one to answer them. It was great to have an opportunity for people to interact with Justin like that and I think he enjoyed it, too. So thanks to John Manuel out in Omaha for lining that up.

Overall the chat went fairly well, though there was almost too much interest in it. The extra traffic once again temporarily crashed our site. We're hoping to remedy that shortly, as it happened on draft day as well. We know that can be frustrating for you, to try to log onto our site and have nothing happen. Of course if you multiply your frustration by about 50 you can imagine how we feel when it happens. Anyway, we want to make a few changes here so that won't be the case any more and maybe the next time we do a chat everyone will be able to follow along for the entire hour.

In other news, the Cardinals finally completed the Fernando Vina deal with the Brewers and we were sadly misinformed this spring when we were told the two players to be named would be early 1999 draft picks. One of them was a '99 draftee--but it was righthander Matt Parker, St. Louis' 31st-round pick. Catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, who signed with the Cardinals out of Venezuela in 1996, was the other.

Parker was 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA at Class A Peoria in 26 relief outings this season. Last year he went 1-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 23 games at Rookie-level Johnson City. Alfonzo, a New York-Penn League all-star last year, was hitting .309 with 16 doubles, five homers and 21 RBIs this year at Peoria.

Back on March 10 when the question was asked here I took a stab at two players and guessed righthander Josh Pearce and second baseman Covelli Crisp, based on the criteria of early picks who were eligible to be traded before June 20. If I were a Brewers fan I think I'd rather have seen the named Pearce and Crisp in the transactions column this morning, but Parker and Alfonzo aren't too bad.

As could be expected, we're seeing a lot of draft-related questions lately, so we start things off in that vein today.

    The Marlins drafted Adrian Gonzalez first, which is good, however their second-round pick intrigues a lot of people more. Do you feel that Jason Stokes will sign with the Marlins and if so (a) who do you like better, Gonzalez or Stokes, and (b) do you see him moving positions and why?

    Thanks,
    Ian

If I were going to guess, I'd say Stokes will go to Texas in the fall. The only reason he slipped in the draft was because of money. The Marlins made it well known that they were not looking to spend bundles of cash on this year's draft. That's probably what it will take to sign Stokes. If he still feels that he's worth what he thought he was worth before draft day, he's certainly not going to want to sign.

I think it actually hurts the chances of Stokes signing to have gone to the Marlins at 40 instead of going 39 or 41 or anywhere around there. Knowing that they have already shelled out $3 million on Gonzalez makes it unlikely there's enough left in the kitty for him. He'd actually have been better off to slide to the Athletics at No. 60, the Diamondbacks at No. 69 or even the Mariners at No. 116. At least then he'd have been at the front of the line when it came to tapping into his team's draft budget.

As for the Marlins, it was a little easier to take a risk on their second-round pick knowing that their first pick was already locked up. Taking a shot on Stokes was a gamble, but one with a potentially great upside and not so much to lose. If Stokes decides that he'd really like to sign and get started on a pro career, he'll have to come down substantially on his asking price. And if he does, the Marlins wind up with the No. 1 pick as well as a player who was thought by many to be a potential No. 1 pick not long before the draft.

If Stokes does sign, I think the Marlins would be wise to play him in the outfield. He did play some outfield this spring, if only to show that he was capbable of playing out there. First base is the position many players land at when they prove they can't handle other positions, such as left or right field. It only makes sense to give him some time out there to see if indeed he can handle the outfield and let him play his way to first if necessary. And considering that Gonzalez is regarded as an excellent defensive first baseman, he'd get the nod over Stokes there anyway.

    I was wondering what you thought of the Braves' draft? A lot was made of the number of picks they had in the early rounds. The biggest question here is that the Braves, being a team not to shy away from signability issues, took almost an entire starting infield (Scott Thorman, Aaron Herr, and Kelly Johnson) while Bobby Hill and Xavier Nady were still on the board. Do you think the Braves shunned these players due to the fact they have Scott Boras as their agent/advisor or is there truly a need for the Braves to have a competitive Rookie-league team?

    To this extent, the Braves also neglected to draft a first baseman (Taggert Bozied) with these picks (Galarraga isn't getting any younger and a recurrence of cancer is not out of the question [knock on wood]), do you believe that the Braves feel that they have someone to fill this position in the near future (A.J. Zapp, Wes Helms) or are the Braves shunting needs in the draft with the hopes of picking up a free agent when the time comes? Also what do you think of the pitchers taken by the Braves (Adam Wainwright, Kenny Nelson, Bryan Digby, Blaine Boyer, and possibly Scott Thorman if his bat doesn't work out)?

    Much has been made of the Braves' farm system, but since Chipper Jones, it doesn't seem that the Braves have drafted many major league contributors (John Rocker, Kevin Millwood and Rob Bell are the only ones that jump immediately to mind), although they have had great success internationally (Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, Odalis Perez, Bruce Chen). With the ban on international free agent signings because of Wilson Betemit, I was thinking that this had to be a pivotal draft for the Braves, and yet they passed on more ballyhooed players to get player's who look to me more like Jacob Shumate, Jamie Arnold and Troy Cameron than people that can produce on a championship caliber team. Do you agree with this assessment or do you believe that I am probably being too harsh on players who have yet to play a professional game?

    Thanks,
    Paul Ponder

    P.S. I did not want to bring it up but I feel almost as if this letter beats around the question without actually asking it so I guess I have to ask it: Do you believe the Braves (and other teams) intentionally avoided players that may insist on more money to keep in line with the wishes of Sandy Alderson of keeping first year player's signing bonuses in check? If so, then what is to come of the teams that do not sign these players and those who do? I believe that it will be obvious that the teams who do have a substantial advantage over those who do not, and hence kill the entire purpose of the draft.

Since 1991, when the Braves took "can't-miss" Arizona State center fielder Mike Kelly with the No. 2 pick in the draft, Atlanta has picked a grand total of three college players in the first five rounds of the draft. That’s three players in nine years (lefthander Carl Schutz, Southeastern Louisiana, 3rd round, 1993; righthander Joe Nelson, San Francisco, 4th round, 1996; righthander Matt McClendon, Florida, 5th round, 1999) and none in the first two rounds.

The Braves as a rule just don't draft college players. I think their decision to pass on Bozied, Hill and Nady had zero to do with Scott Boras and everything to do with an organizational philosophy that stresses drafting high school talent. High school players by nature are bigger risks than college players. They are three years younger and hence, in most cases, 2-3 years further from the big leagues. But only by signing a kid out of high school does an organization get to mold him into the player they want him to become from the start. The same goes for international players, and the six-month signing ban, by the way, was just for the Dominican Republic, not for all foreign signings.

From my viewpoint, I'd say the Braves are one of the teams out there that least cares about fielding a competitive team in Rookie ball. That they do is a factor of their ability to scout and sign good young players. There are so many organizations out there that stock their farm clubs with five "prospects" and 20 "fillers." In many cases the fillers are college players assigned to a level where they will be almost guaranteed to produce. Then two years later they are released when they are unable to perform at higher levels. This is not Atlanta's approach.

The Braves acknowledged on draft night that they didn't pick a lot of players that were ranked high by our magazine. But I wouldn't draw the conclusion from that that they drafted players who were unworthy of being taken in the first four rounds. (Their haul included nine players in the first four rounds.) Given what they've done over the past decade, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when it comes to young pitchers.

In recent years the Braves have added Jimmy Osting, Kevin McGlinchy, Jason Marquis, Matt Belisle, Scott Sobkowiak and McClendon via the draft. Other than McGlinchy they are all yet to contribute at the major league level (though Marquis was recently called up). But that's not a bad collection of arms and even at their various minor league levels, they all have trade value should the Braves choose to address an immediate need.

As for the final question, yes, I think it was quite obvious that many teams avoided certain players because of bonus demands. And this has become prevalent enough in recent years to bring into question the validity of the draft. As much fun as it is, I think the draft has probably outlived its usefulness.

That said, however, teams are proving to be shortsighted in many situations when they pass on a player solely for monetary purposes. I think every team in retrospect would love to sign Rick Ankiel to a $2.5 million contract. And they all had a shot at him in 1997. As long as the draft is the system in place for distributing amateur talent teams are only hurting themselves to consistenly pass on premium talent because of money.

    How long before draftees report to their assignments? When are assignments handed out?

    Joseph Thomas

Most draftees will report to short-season leagues, which begin playing next week. In most cases teams will send college players to the Northwest and New York-Penn leagues and high school players to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and Arizona leagues. Teams in the advanced Rookie-level Appalachian and Pioneer leagues are stocked with both high school and college players.

Some advanced college players, mostly from the larger Division I schools, will go to full-season Class A teams. Some have already been assigned to these teams. For example, Expos 17th-round pick Derrick DePriest was sent to Class A Cape Fear a few days after the draft. He's already appeared in three games for the Crocs.

June 8, 2000

All apologies for the absence of Ask BA on Tuesday, but there was this little thing called the draft going on and it took up all of our attention. We're getting back onto a normal schedule now and we'll start things off today with a couple of draft related questions.

    I saw that the University of Miami had five players they had signed picked in the first round. Also I assume other high school signees were chosen in other early rounds. What is your opinion on what will become of Miami signing class?

    Andy

I'd be surprised if any of the five first-rounders end up at Miami. Shortstop Luis Montanez (No. 3 pick) has already signed with the Cubs. Lefthander Joe Torres (No. 10, Angels), lefthander Sean Burnett (No. 19, Pirates) and shortstop Corey Smith (No. 26, Indians) are expected to sign fairly quickly. Shortstop David Espinosa was regarded as a potential No. 1 overall pick at one point a few weeks before the draft but slipped to the Reds at No. 23. His fall had everything to do with Scott Boras being his agent. That won't be an easy sign for Cincinnati, but it will probably get done at some point this summer.

After that the next two Miami recruits selected were fourth-rounders Zach Miner (Braves) and Raul Tablado (Blue Jays). The Blue Jays don't usually let too many picks get away from them, so expect Tablado, a shortstop, to sign. Last year the only player in the first 22 rounds not to sign with Toronto was righthander Brandon Lyon (14th round) and he signed as a draft-and-follow this spring out of Dixie (Utah) JC. The Braves have been nearly as effective in recent years, but they are willing to gamble picks on tough signs and occasionally lose out on a player who has his heart set on college. With nine picks in the first four rounds, the Braves could stand to let one or two slip through and Miner could be one to go to school.

Another Braves draftee, righthander Tim McClendon, is likely to head for school after going in the 25th round. McClendon is the younger brother of Braves prospect Matt McClendon, who turned down the Reds out of high school. Righthander Danny Touchet went to the Reds in the 31st round and is also likely to land at Miami. Righthander Haas Pratt, a high school teammate of Scott Heard and Matt Wheatland at San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High, was taken in the 18th round by the Red Sox. They'll have a hard time signing him away from school.

The Hurricanes knew last fall when they signed all of those players that they it was unlikely many of them would pass on pro ball. They should still wind up with a handful of decent freshmen, but the first-rounders are longshots to show up at school in the fall.

    Im curious to know if the Braves were able to sign any 'draft-and-follow' players from last year's draft? Also, how do you grade the Braves draft in general and is there a potential sleeper who wasn't highly publicized? Thank you for your time.

    LA09lakers@aol.com

The Braves signed three draft-and-follows: third baseman Tommy Parrott (33rd round, Daytona Beach, Fla., CC), righthander Toby Staveland (44th, Mendocino, Calif., CC) and righthander Grant Abrams (45th, St. Petersburg, Fla., JC). We have a list of draft-and-follow signees posted in Draft Headquarters.

The Braves had quite a haul of early-round picks, with four first-rounders and two each in the second and fourth rounds. They went with a typically Atlanta approach, not taking a four-year college player until the 12th round when they grabbed Arizona second baseman Keonni De Renne.

With their first pick they grabbed righthander Adam Wainwright, a 6-foot-7 righthander who has been clocked at 94 mph this spring. He might not be as well known as some of the other first-rounders, but the Braves were happy to take him. He ranked No. 50 on our predraft Top 100 Prospects. I'm not going to run down their entire list pick by pick, because I'd basically just be repeating what was written by Bill Ballew in our team draft stories.

As for some potential sleepers, Kevin Cust (Jack's younger brother) was regarded as a third-round talent and they scooped him up in the 11th round. Of course, most players who fall in the draft still want the money they would have gotten if they were picked where they were projected, so that might not be an easy sign. Another tough sign will be righthander Mike Davern, who was looked at as a potential first-rounder before the season began. His stock fell and he has a strong commitment to UCLA, which made him a gamble. As mentioned above, they also took McClendon in the 25th round and he could be a tough sign, too.

    Hello:

    I have two questions on the Capital City Bombers. 1. What was the nature of Ken Chenard's injury that sent him to the DL, will it require surgery or is it career threatening? 2. What was the reason for catcher Michael Jacobs leaving the team and is he likely to return?

    Thanks,
    Calvin

As I do whenever I have a question on a Capital City player, I turned to Bombers assistant GM and media relations director Mark Bryant, who once again came through for me. He said that Chenard experienced soreness in his throwing shoulder and the staff wanted to be cautious, so they sat him down for a couple of starts. No surgery or lasting damage is expected. He's been throwing on the side and could come back any time. As for Jacobs, he was placed on the DL for personal reasons, but could rejoin the team any time now.

    I am a fan of Yohanny Valera, formerly from the Binghamton Mets, and decided to travel to see a Harrisburg Senators game, the team he plays for this year. It wasn't a trip just to see him but also I love watching baseball anytime and any team. Yohanny wasn't there and I heard that he was promoted to Ottawa. Is this true and does it look like he will stay there for a while?

    Jim Hartinson
    Binghamton, NY

Finally, another Yohanny Valera fan surfaces. I thought I was the only one. Ever since I included Valera in the 1995 Appalachian League Top 10 Prospects list I've been rooting for him to reach the big leagues. Hasn't happened, though he's creeping slowly in the right direction. I want him to get me that asterisk. Readers familiar with our league top 10 lists know that we take a look back after five years and denote those who made the Show with an asterisk.

The '95 Appy League list needs a boost in a bad way, so I'm crossing my fingers for a miracle and a Valera callup. He was the No. 2 prospect in the league that year, at least according to the managers. Most of them were sure he would hit enough that his tremendous defense would make him a solid big league catcher. Well, he followed his .294 showing that year with seasons of .212, .191 and .205, so he's not really living up to his end of the deal. He did come through with a .289-9-39 showing at Binghamton last year, but struggled badly following a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk.

He's back in Triple-A now, at Ottawa, but his presence there has more to do with Brian Schneider getting called to Montreal than it does with his earning a promotion. He was barely hitting over .200 when he was promoted and will probably return to Harrisburg when Schneider returns to Ottawa.

June 1, 2000

It's that time of year again. Time for Major League Baseball to foist the charade known as interleague play on us. So less than a week after Pedro and the Rocket treated us to one of the best regular-season games in recent memory, we get the Dodgers and Angels locking up in a meaningless exhibition series.

Maybe if no one would show up someone would think about calling an end to this madness. So do your part and don't go to any major league games this weekend. Head for a minor league park instead or check out a Super Regional matchup in the NCAA tournament. Or spend your entire weekend boning up on the draft.

Speaking of which, if you have any burning draft-related questions, Allan Simpson, Baseball America's founder and editor, will be fielding them in an ESPN chat this afternoon at 3 p.m. ET. So check that out after you finish reading today's column.

    I noticed that Jack Cust wasn't in the box score for Tuesday's El Paso game. I'm assuming he just got a day off, but I guess it's also possible that he got promoted. Did he?

    Andy Weisner

According to the El Paso Times, Cust sat out Tuesday night's game after leaving Monday's game early due to an accelerated heartbeat. Though he was cleared to play, the team has held him out the last two games as a precautionary measure.

Cust has actually been in somewhat of a slump lately, going 3-for-34 over a nine game stretch to drop his average to .293. It's kind of ironic because the Diamondbacks sent Alex Cabrera to El Paso to provide Cust with some protection and Cabrera has been on fire ever since he arrived in town. But suddenly Cust can't find his stroke, even with the best protection in Double-A. Of course, he'll probably snap out of it any time now.

Speaking of Cabrera . . .

    Quite simply, who the hell is Alex Cabrera? I have heard various reports that he's a career minor leaguer brought in to tutor Jack Cust, but, 21 homers in one month? I can find no information on the man anywhere on the net or in numerous books (Age? Home country? Ht./Wt.? Shoe size?). Is he a legitimate prospect or a career Double-A masher?

    Thanks,
    Daniel Miers

Daniel, the book you need is the Baseball America Super Register. In it you will find career stats and bio info for more than 6,300 players, including Alex Cabrera.

Cabrera is a minor league and foreign league veteran who has posted impressive numbers before, but nothing like he's doing right now. With a home run in yesterday's game he moved into second place on the all-time minor league list for home runs in a month with 21 in May, according to Howe Sportsdata. Not bad for a guy coming off back surgery--or anyone else for that matter.

Cabrera spent last year with China Trust in the Chinese Pro Baseball League (Taiwan) and played with the Mexico City Tigers for the two seasons prior to that. He originally signed with the Cubs in 1991 out of Venezuela and spent six years in their organization before starting his voyage around the globe.

Cabrera is now 28 and has been brought to El Paso not as a tutor for Cust, but more just to give him some protection so that opposing pitchers won't work around him so much. The Phillies did a similar thing with Pat Burrell last year when they had minor league veteran Tyrone Horne hit behind him at Double-A Reading. Horne hit just .267 with five homers and 37 RBIs in 80 games, so Cabrera has been a wee bit more productive thus far.

As to his prospect status, it would be nice to see him back at Triple-A before one got too excited. Not that it was his fault he got demoted, as he was batting .317-2-7 in 41 at-bats at Tucson at the time the Diamondbacks decided to send him to El Paso. But still, it's just hard to get a read on what a guy is truly capable of when he's playing below his level. Kind of makes you wonder what Mark McGwire could do in a full Texas League season.

Cabrera, by the way, stands 6-foot-2, 217 pounds. The Super Register doesn't record shoe size, so I can't help you out on that one.

    I was wondering about a couple of A's prospects, one of whom I'm sure most people have heard about now, Adam Piatt. Do you see Piatt moving to the outfield so he can find somewhere to fit in, or possibly being traded? Oakland has a few good outfield prospects with Mario Encarnacion and Terrence Long just to name a couple, so playing time might be tough there, too. Secondly, Jason Hart, a first baseman at Midland this year has gotten off to a great start this year after two strong years in A-ball. He grew up in this area and I followed him while he played at Southwest Missouri State. What do you know about him and what do you think about his progress so far and chances to get to the show?

    Thanks!
    Chris Jones
    Bolivar, Missouri

Piatt has played some outfield this year at Triple-A Sacramento and he could show up in the A's outfield at some point, though he's mainly DH'ed and played third base with Oakland so far. In 33 at-bats with the big club he's hitting .303 with two homers and eight RBIs.

Hart has certainly proven himself capable of hitting at each level he has played at. Last year at Class A Modesto he batted .305 with 48 doubles, 19 homers and 123 RBIs. He's more than halfway to that lofty RBI total already this season, with a league-leading 62 for Double-A Midland. He's also fourth in the league with a .362 average and second, behind Cabrera, with 17 homers.

The problem for Piatt and Hart is that the A's are deep in corner infielders/outfielders and DH types. Piatt isn't going to beat out Eric Chavez at third, so that throws him into the mix with Jason Giambi (1B), Jeremy Giambi (DH), Ben Grieve (LF), Olmedo Saenz (1B/DH) and Matt Stairs (RF). You can throw John Jaha (DH) back into that mix next week when he returns from the disabled list.

There have been rumors circulating that Stairs is on the block, but if the A's want to stay in the race this season it seems unlikely that they would trade him considering what he's done over the past few seasons. Sure he's not doing much right now, but he did hit 38 homers and drive in 102 runs just last year. Of course, until someone gets traded, there won't be much opportunity for Piatt or anyone else to break into that rotation.

    Recently some prospects have shown up on Baseball America reports with the notation that they have been placed on the suspended list, e.g., Nathan Haynes with Anaheim and Jeff Winchester with Colorado. Is the suspended list used for fairly routine stumbles like being late for the bus on a road trip or is this a possible uh oh that all is not well between the prospect and the Organization?

    Thanks,
    Tom McCullough

It's hard to draw any conclusions based on just seeing a players name on the suspended list, because there can be a variety of reasons for it. One of the most common is the on-field suspension. There have been a few cases where multiple players on a team have been suspended by their league following a brawl. We try to not include those in the transactions, especially if the players have been placed both on and off the suspended list that week. But most times we have no idea why a player was suspended. The teams generally prefer to keep quiet on that subject, meaning the real story rarely gets out.

In most cases the suspensions last for just a couple of days and the player is restored to the active roster. According to the rule book, a player may be suspended for up to 30 days, though any suspension longer than 10 days may be appealed to the commissioner's office.

    I'm wondering how you guys actually go about rating the best prospects in the draft, especially their tools.

    My question deals especially with Mark Phillips, your No. 7 prospect. When you first came out with the breakdown in January, he was only listed in the 20s as a prospect and not found in the best tools section. I attributed that to the fact that he had not gotten a ton of notoriety, which is fine.

    But now he has moved up considerably in the eyes of scouts, and I'm wondering why he is not listed as one of the best athletes? I'm biased, because I used to cover him for a local paper from 1997-1999. But do you guys realize that an ACC college wanted him as their QB? And he was polished enough to do it, I'm positive.

    Or that he not only was recruited as a pitcher, but as a left fielder. He hit over .500 last season and is hitting over .600 this year. He has lettered in basketball as well for three years.

    In other words, I've got to think he's one of the three best athletes in this class. How did Mr. Simpson come up with his list?

    Michael Sadowski
    Scranton, PA

You're right in that much of the rankings come from Allan's discussions with scouts, college recruiters, etc.

One thing you have to keep in mind, however, is that three is a very small number. There are players all over the country who are the best athlete in their city, county, state, etc. Not to undermine what Phillips has done, but there are a lot of guys out there who are two-sport athletes with great talent. Almost all of the great high school pitchers play another position in addition to anchoring their staff's rotation. And to say that he's the best athlete among baseball players in the state of Pennsylvania would be a pretty good claim already. Now figure there are 49 other states and it gets tough to whittle that list down to three.

Really, without stacking everyone up at some kind of NFL-type scouting combine, it's tough to pick the three absolutely best for any of the categories on our Best Tools lists. But Allan has an amazing number of contacts and judging from the people he's talked with, he came up with the short list of Rocco Baldelli, Skyler Fulton and David Espinosa as the top three athletes among this year's high school crop.

If you want to ask Allan just where Phillips fell in that list, head for the ESPN chat and send him your question.


Got a question? Send it to askba@baseballamerica.com.

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