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By James Bailey

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May 30, 2000

You've got to enjoy the Memorial Day baseball fest ESPN presents every year. I got to see more major league action yesterday than I have all month, I think. And I got to watch one of my new favorites work in the Detroit-Texas game. I really enjoy watching Tigers righthander Jeff Weaver work. His pitches have so much movement on them and he doesn't shoot anything up there straight. I think within a year or two he's going to be one of the best pitchers in the American League.

Kind of makes you wonder how he'd look in a White Sox uniform. Weaver, of course, was drafted in the second round by the Sox in 1997, but Chicago let him get away. They signed five supplemental first-rounders and every pick they had in the first 15 rounds except for Weaver. That haul included righthanders Aaron Myette and Rocky Biddle and lefthander Jim Parque. Throw Weaver into that mix and it would have been quite the haul.

I kind of like playing the coulda-been game with old drafts. It's intriguing to go back through the old draft lists and look at who didn't get signed. Of course, in most cases they were high school kids who were either set on going to college or they had such a long ways to go that the team didn't make a serious effort to sign them.

The Tigers' 1995 draft is an interesting one for the guys who got away. How would their organization look with outfielders Eric Valent (26th round) and Jeremy Giambi (44th)? How about first baseman--er, lefthander--Mark Mulder (55th)? You often see teams draft a bunch of players, especially back before they cut the draft to 50 rounds in 1998, and make little effort to sign most of them. But the Tigers signed their last four picks that year, rounds 56-59, making Mulder their latest unsigned pick. No. 57, incidentally, was outfielder Gabe Kapler.

It's not unusual in this era of free agency for a team to wind up with numerous first-round picks. But it is a little unusual for a team to let three future first-rounders get away. It's looking like that's what happened in 1997 for the Yankees. Outfielder Tyrell Godwin was New York's first-round pick that year, and he chose to attend North Carolina on a Morehead (academic) Scholarship. It appears that he'll repeat as a first-rounder next week. There are two others projected to go in the first-round on Monday who chose college over the Yankees three years ago. How would that farm system look with righthanders Beau Hale (22nd round, Texas) and Aaron Heilman (55th round, Notre Dame)? Of course hindsight is 20-20, but if the Yankees could redo things, perhaps they'd choose to sign those three players and forget about all of the other guys they inked.

It's just another week now until we get to size up another draft class. It's always the busiest time of the year for us here, but somehow we don't seem to mind the extra work so much because the draft is so much fun, frantic as it may be. And you can thank the fear of a really crazy week for having this column up so early this time around. Had to clear the decks. Enjoy.

    What is wrong with the Cubs? Are they not the worst organization in sports? They promote Carlos Zambrano, an 18-year-old kid, to Triple-A, which is rushing him, to begin with. To top it all off, they stick him in the bullpen. This kid throws 95-plus and maintains his stuff late into games. So, in an effort by Ed Lynch to save his job, he rushed Zambrano to the Triple-A bullpen, so he can bring him up to "rescue" the bullpen. Now, two of the three best arms in the system in Kyle Farnsworth and Zambrano (Ben Christensen being the other) are stuck in the Iowa bullpen. Why do I follow this organization? God help me.

    Pat Sievert
    Edmond, OK

It does seem a little curious to me for the Cubs to take a starter as capable as Zambrano and move him to relief. Generally, any time a pitcher is succeeding as a starter a team will leave him in that role. For the most part, pitchers who get moved to the bullpen are moved because there is something missing from their game that is keeping them from being a successful starter, like they don't have an effective third pitch, etc.

The exceptions you see to this rule often occur when a major league team already has five good starters and they want to mix a young pitcher in. So they send him to the bullpen for a season or two to get his feet wet and wait for an opening. That happened with Scott Elarton in Houston last year, for example.

Is the Zambrano move a panic move by the Cubs? Well, the big league bullpen owns a 7.15 ERA and is 12-for-23 in save opportunities. More astonishingly, Cubs relievers have walked more batters than they've struck out (111 to 107, though 17 of those free passes were intentional). To me this smells like a desperation move. But even worse, it's a shortsighted one.

It's not like the Cubs rotation is shutting everyone down. Chicago starters have a 5.60 ERA as a group. If Zambrano, who turns 19 on Thursday, is not going to get to Wrigley in time to save the Cubs season anyway (as if one rookie could singlehandedly do that again), why not groom him to step into the rotation next April? The bottom line is that a starter is more valuable than a reliever. Two-hundred innings is more valuable than 65 innings. It's a simple fact, borne out by the relative pay scales of major league pitching. The top dogs are starting pitchers, and there's a reason for that. If Zambrano were my top pitching prospect, I'd be leaving him in the rotation.

    It seems like the Pirates make extra risky choices with their drafts by picking people in rounds far different than many expect (Ryan Duimont last year for example, Clint Johnston as a first-rounder two years ago). But then they are willing to take chances and spend big money in later rounds. I'm wondering what has happened to player they drafted late last year and give a big bonus to, I don't remember his name but he was scheduled to pitch at Notre Dame but Bucs signed him instead. Also, what about J.R. House and Jeremey Cotten. Can House develop into a big league catcher? Is Cotten back to being a good a prospect? Hickory looks like it has a ton of prospects.

    Ron Leighton

The pitcher the Pirates signed away from Notre Dame was righthander Patrick O'Brien, whom they signed in late July for $500,000. O'Brien didn't pitch last summer and has yet to make his pro debut. He will likely do so next month when the short-season leagues begin playing.

As expected, House has a long way to go at catcher, if the Pirates are serious about keeping him behind the plate. He recognizes that and is willing to work at it, but it's a long-term project. It presents kind of an interesting dilemma for the Pirates. House is going to be ready offensively to climb the ladder, while defensively he won't be. That means he either stays down and tears things up at the plate or he shifts to first base full-time and moves on up.

I think most teams would rather take the patient approach and see what happens defensively with a player in House's situation. If he can become even an adequate defensive catcher, he brings so much to your team offensively. Maybe he'd be an average to above-average hitter for a first baseman in the big leagues, but the same offense at catcher would make him one of the best in the game. That's got to be appealing.

Of course, the Pirates already have one of the best catchers in the game in Jason Kendall. But House is a few years away and a lot can happen in 2-3 years. In addition, Kendall has been rumored to be a candidate for a position shift since he was in A-ball. If the Pirates decided to move Kendall to second base, etc., a couple of years down the road and they had House ready to step in behind the plate, it would all come together nicely.

Cotten has rebounded quite nicely and looks once again like a second-round talent, which is where he was taken in the 1998 draft. Hickory is indeed quite deep in talent. If you're interested in learning more about that team, we ran a story on the Crawdads a few weeks ago.

    I'm a big Phillies fan, and have read about the recent success of Piedmont. I also have read about the individuals on Piedmont who have showed much promise. Unfortunately, all that I have been able to read are statistics. I was hoping that you could give me a little more info on Marlon Byrd, Nate Espy, Brett Myers and Adam Walker. I would also like to know who you feel has the best shot to have a major league impact down the road.


Byrd was a 10th-round pick last June out of Georgia Perimeter JC. He debuted at short-season Batavia and was named a New York-Penn League all-star after hitting .296 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs.

Espy, 22, played at Piedmont last year, but without the success he's having this season, hitting .254 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs. An 18th-round pick out of Lurleen B Wallace (Ala.) JC in 1998, he hit .361 with 13 homers and 56 RBIs at Rookie-level Martinsville his first season and he's hitting .317 and tied for the Sally League lead with 12 homers this year. He's also consistently drawn walks in his three pro seasons, even last year when the rest of his numbers were down. Defensively, he's not bad at first base except for the fact that he can't throw. Going back through my notes from doing the Appalachian League Top 10 in '98 it seems the two most common things managers said were that he couldn't throw a lick and that he had a great work ethic. That combination works better at first base than anywhere else.

Myers, you probably know as the Phillies' first-round pick from last year. He made his debut in the Rookie-level GCL and pitched pretty well, striking out 30 in 27 innings and posting a 2.33 ERA. The No. 3 prospect in the Phillies organization, Myers is a power pitcher who throws in the mid-90s on a regular basis.

Walker just moved up to high Class A Clearwater, or should I say moved back there. A 27th-round pick out of Mississippi in 1997, he spent the entire 1999 season at Clearwater, going 9-7 with a 3.93 ERA. This spring he went back a level, though, going to Piedmont, where he went 9-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 1998. The Phillies said they based their decision on demoting the 6-foot-7 Walker on the fact that he just never looked last year like the dominant guy they saw the year before. They wanted him to go back to Piedmont to re-find himself and he did, going 6-1, 2.05 before earning a ticket out of Piedmont.

Hate to take the obvious choice, but if I were picking one out of the four for the biggest impact down the road, I'd choose Myers. After that I might go with Walker. It sounds funny, but I don't think the Phillies would bother demoting the guy if they didn't think he had it in him to do better. And he showed a lot by accepting the move without moaning about it and just going out and showing them what they wanted to see.

    I heard that Tony Phillips is playing for a Pacific Coast team in Triple-A ball. Is this true and if so can you give me some up to date information about Tony; his recovery from a broken leg; if he has thoughts of being signed again.


Phillips had been planning to play for the Valley Vipers in the independent Western League this season, but apparently his foot still isn't fully healed. At 41, he may have reached the end of the road on his playing career.

May 25, 2000

We've had a bit of a reunion down here over the past 24 hours. Long-time BA readers should remember Jim Callis, who was our fearless managing editor for a long stretch up until about three years ago. Well, he's coming back to work with us, basically replacing David Rawnsley. He now lives in the Chicago area and yesterday made his first return to Durham since he left in 1997. Our national writer Alan Schwarz, who is based in New York, also came to town yesterday.

It's been a lot of fun to see them again and we're all excited here about what's going on and what having Jim back in the picture will do for the magazine and Web site. If you want to welcome him back to the fold, you can reach him at Before long I think you'll be seeing a lot of his work up on Baseball America Online.

In the meantime, here's some Ask BA to chew on. And it would have been up sooner if we didn't all go out to lunch with Jim and Alan, so blame them for the late posting today.

    Hi, I was wondering how Aubrey Huff and Danny Ardoin fit into their teams' plans. Both are hitting in the .340s in Triple-A. The A's backup catcher is hitting under .200. It seems like Tampa Bay has Huff's position and the DH filled though.


Huff is really hitting the snot out of the ball, to put it in technical scouting terms. We're fortunate enough to get to see his work first-hand here in Durham. Last week I saw him hit two home runs against Louisville and they were absolute bombs. The first one hit off the brick wall in center field, just a few feet shy from totally leaving the stadium. He can mash. He does seem to be blocked for the moment by Vinny Castilla in Tampa Bay, but if the Devil Rays trade Jose Canseco to the Yankees, as has been rumored in recent days, maybe that will open a roster spot there and Castilla and Huff can share third base and DH.

Ardoin is hitting .344 with 13 doubles, four home runs and 28 RBIs at Sacramento, so he's certainly hit enough to catch Oakand's attention. Sal Fasano's not exactly setting the world on fire as the backup backstop in Oakland, but he does have more experience. With Ramon Hernandez as the starting catcher, Fasano's experience probably works in his favor over Ardoin. The A's might also prefer for Ardoin to play every day and not catch just two times a week like he would as a backup in the big leagues.

    My question concerns Winston Abreu. He had a great year last season after overcoming arm problems. But why hasn't he pitched this year? Also, can you give me a run down on any foreign players the Braves have signed this year?

Abreu has been on the disabled list at Double-A Greenville since pitching four innings in his first start of the season. He's feeling a twinge in his shoulder and is basically out for precautionary reasons. There doesn't seem to be anything seriously wrong with him as far as the Braves can tell, but until he says he feels okay they can't really run him back out on the mound.

The big foreign signing recently for the Braves was Cuban catcher Brayan Pena, who reportedly received a $1.25 million bonus. Pena, 18, defected last year at a tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, as a member of Cuba's junior national team. He's been assigned to extended spring training and will likely report to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Prior to their six-month ban on signing Dominican players, the Braves also signed 16-year-old shortstop Franklin Infante for $375,000, which is the highest bonus the Braves have ever paid out to a Dominican player. That was in late February. He is in extended spring training and will most likely play in the GCL this summer.

    What is the status of Adrian Hernandez? There was a lot of news about him prior to the season, but I do not remember hearing if he actually signed with anyone. Is he just not as good as clubs thought or is he asking for too much money?

    J. D. Farr

Hernandez is working out at Yankees extended spring training. They are waiting for the federal red tape to get worked out before he can officially sign and be assigned to a team. He agreed to a four-year $4 million contract with the Yankees in April.

    Does Tampa Bay have any plans to promote Josh Hamilton this season? The main reason I ask is that we plan on being in Savannah on July 3-6 when the Sand Gnats play the RiverDogs. I'd really like to see Hamilton, Carl Crawford and Neal Frendling take on Hank Blalock and Ryan Dittfurth. Is there anything else in this series we should look for? Any chance of it being a sellout on the 4th of July? Any chance you'll be there?

    Bruce Norlander
    Minneapolis, MN

I would guess a lot of these guys will be promoted at the midway point of the Sally League season, which is about a month from now. Their all-star game is June 20; after that the second half starts. It's very common for players to get promoted from low A to high A at the midseason break. All the players you named are good candidates for promotion, too. In fact, I'd be kind of surprised if Hamilton and Crawford were not promoted.

There's a good chance of a great crowd on July 4, but I'd be shocked if Savannah ever sold a game out. They list their capacity at 8,000, which is the largest of any Sally League park.

Savannah is a far spot from Durham, so you probably won't see me there on July 4. I do plan on heading down to the Sally League all-star game next month, though. That's in Charleston, S.C. There will be plenty of great prospects on hand, too.

We're kind of lucky around here, because in one day (June 20) there will be three all-star games within a reasonable distance of BA World Headquarters. We're fanning out to the California League-Carolina League game in Kinston, N.C., and the Southern League game in Greenville, S.C., as well as the game in Charleston. A couple of weeks later we'll be in attendance at the Double-A and Triple-A all-star games, as well as the second annual Futures Game. I'm heading to Rochester for the Triple-A game, myself.

So within a span of a few weeks, we should get to eyeball top prospects from every full-season league except for the Florida State and Midwest leagues, and of course, we'll have our league correspondents at those. It will be a prospect feast, but first we've got to get through the draft.

Okay, I know we've been getting a lot of Brewers questions here lately and some people might be kind of wondering what's up with that. Well, it's mostly coincidence that there have been several interesting questions come in recently that have been about the Brewers. But there's a little more. I don't consider myself a big Brewers fan, but I can feel a little kinship to those who do, as I grew up a diehard Mariners fan, back in the days of Jim Maler, Dave Edler, Manny Sarmiento, etc. There's something to be said for fans that will stick with a team in the down times. You know there is absolutely no one out there that's a "bandwagon Brewers fan." They have no bandwagon. Maybe in a few years, with a few breaks, there will be a reason for the bandwagon fans to start crawling out of the woodwork. But the folks who are sending in Brewers questions now--you know they're true blue Brew Crew. Plus, the Brewers are always helpful when I call them with a question. So here goes yet another Brewers question.

    Hi, thanks for all the great columns about minor league baseball and the Brewers especially. The Crew seems to get a lot of fan interest in their minor leagues, even with their current shoddy condition.

    I have three questions. First, I recently read the Brewers signed their fifth-round choice of 1999, Dustin Lansford. I know very little about him; why did he decide to sign so late and what will he bring to the Brewers?

    Secondly, what happened to Ruddy Lugo, the highly athletic kid from Brooklyn? He pitched in the Pioneer League last year but I haven't seen anything from him since. He is supposed to be able to play shortstop very well as well as pitch, is it possible he is in extended spring training learning how to play short?

    Finally, I was wondering how many organizations have brothers playing in their system? Matt and Jason Childers are the only ones I know of right off hand. Thanks for the info and keep up the good work.

    Toby Harrmann

Lansford signed as a draft-and-follow after finishing his season at McLennan (Texas) JC. He reported to extended spring training on Monday, but has yet to appear in a game. A 6-foot, 175-pound righthander, he throws the usual assortment of fastball, curveball, changeup. He's likely to begin his career in the Rookie-level Pioneer League.

Lugo is also likely to head for the Pioneer League when their schedule starts next month. He is still pitching, and threw three scoreless innings in his last appearance in extended spring action.

As for the brother acts, off the top of my head I can think of a few. The Cromer twins in the Devil Rays organization are both 6-foot-4 lefthanders who played at Rookie-level Princeton last year. Nathan was a 10th-round pick in last June's draft and Jason went a round later.

White Sox second baseman Ray Durham's younger brother Chad plays at Class A Burlington, in the Sox system. Calvin and Kelvin Pickering both play in the Orioles organization. Kelvin was a 35th-round pick last year. I'm sure there must be a handful of others, but I can't think of them at the moment.

May 23, 2000

I received an interesting e-mail from someone following up on last Thursday's question/comment on Bobby Darula. It came from Chris Peckham, a former teammate of Darula's at Eckerd (Fla.) College. Here's what he had to say:

    I am an avid reader of Baseball America and a former minor league player myself. I spent two years playing short-season A ball with the Anaheim Angels. I (for lack of a better word) choked and quickly found myself out of baseball.

    Enough about me, this e-mail concerns the complete ineptitude on the part of the Milwaukee Brewers in their handling of Bobby Darula. Bobby is a terrific ballplayer who possesses every baseball skill it takes to make it to the major leagues. I know you will quickly bring to my attention his lack of power and I will not disagree with you, but I would certainly say that given Bobby's incredible natural strength (his father was a former natural bodybuilder) the potential for an increase in power is definitely there.

    What separates Bobby from everyone else though, is his work ethic. He spends countless hours in the batting cages, working on his fundamentals, and he puts in some serious time in the weight room to maintain his already chiseled physique. He has yet to hit under .300 in any season in professional ball. It's rather disheartening to see the Brewers burying a great player like Darula who, without a doubt, should be at Double-A right now. They seem content on not moving a great player who could help their organization simply because of the "retirement" issue of 1998.

    Bobby is a lefthanded-hitting catcher by trade, who has well-above average speed and above average foot-work and arm strength. His character is impeccable. You never hear Bobby Darula's name in the same sentence as anything negative. Yet, the Brewers will not reward his hard work, talent, and willingness to play at an inferior level of baseball in relation to his skills. Just look at his OPS. His walk/strikeout ratio is phenomenal and has been every year in pro ball. He has a clear understanding of the strike zone and has instincts as a hitter that are unteachable to most young players.

    I know all of this first hand because I had the pleasure of playing with Bobby for three years at Eckerd College in Florida. He still holds the record for the highest batting average for a single-season with .447. That's pretty good considering some of the alumni that have passed through the doors of Eckerd College which was a national powerhouse in the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, politics are not isolated to corporations in the work force, as it is glaringly obvious that the great game of baseball will not be spared of such an ugly, age-old practice such as that.

    Chris Peckham

I have to agree with Chris that I'd like to see Darula get a shot at a higher level. Through yesterday's games he was hitting .419 with 29 RBIs for Beloit. It's hard to believe they don't have an opening at high Class A Mudville or even Double-A Huntsville for him.

Speaking of Beloit, another reader had a question about Snappers catcher Lance Burkhart.

    Can you give me some info on catcher Lance Burkhart? He was sent to the Brewers organization by the Expos. He is putting up some really good numbers this season in Beloit. But why is he only playing A-ball, when last season he was sent up to Triple-A Ottawa? Who did the Brewers send to the Expos to complete the trade and why was he traded with the skills he is showing this season? Understand he has a brother that plays first base for Triple-A Pawtucket?

    Jupiter, Florida

Burkhart, like Darula, is 25 years old and is posting some pretty impressive numbers at Beloit. He's batting .301 with nine homers and leads the Midwest League with 43 RBIs. He homered twice and drove in five runs in a loss to Burlington Monday night. He is, in fact, the younger brother of Morgan Burkhart, who currently plays for Pawtucket.

Unlike Darula, Burkhart has never really produced before. He entered this season with a .207 average and six home runs in three pro seasons (382 at-bats). He did get a taste of Triple-A last year, appearing in two games for Ottawa, but that hardly established him as a Triple-A player. He was only just temporarily filling in. Other than those two games he's seen all his action at Class A or lower. Still, considering his age, if the Brewers like his upside at all, he should probably be challenged with a move to Mudville at midseason.

Burkhart came to the Brewers from the Expos in a deal for a player to be named in February. I haven't seen any report on who the Expos received, so I don't believe the trade has been completed yet.

On the subject of Brewers trades involving players to be named, we still don't know who the two players left in the Fernando Vina deal are. It seems like we get a question a week on that subject, though we covered that on March 10. The answer will come next month.

    What do you think of Neil Frendling of the Devil Rays in Charleston? He seems to be one of their better pitchers in the lower minors and nobody has heard of him.

    Mike Flynn

Frendling is one of those guys who just quietly keeps on putting up good numbers. He signed last May as a draft-and-follow after being picked by the Devil Rays in the 16th round of the 1998 draft. He went 5-2 with a 2.94 ERA at two stops last season and is now 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA after eight starts at Charleston. He has 54 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings and has walked just 15 hitters. More impressively, he's taken no-hitters into the eighth inning in two of his last three starts.

This question led to an idea for a new feature on Baseball America Online. You may have seen the Frendling story that we ran last week. We'll be doing something similar to "introduce" an emerging minor leaguer each week for the rest of the season. Frankly, we need the introduction ourselves a lot of the time. When you figure there are more than 6,000 players in Organized Baseball, it's truly impossible to know the story behind them all, or even a fraction of them. So when someone suddenly, or even not-so-suddenly, begins to emerge as a prospect in Class A, we've got to learn about them just like you do.

    Ben Broussard's on the Chattanooga Lookout DL for a month. What happened to the big guy? I called the team and they are keeping mum, which I find odd.


Broussard has a stress fracture in his right hand and is expected to miss up to five weeks of action. He apparently injured it during an at-bat when he swung at a pitch.

    I have been watching the progress this year of the Braves first-round draft pick in 1994, Jacob Shumate. According to his numbers this year, it really seems as though he is having a breakout year. Right now he is 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA and is among the Southern League leaders with 10 saves. Can you comment on Shumate and where he fits in to the Braves' plans?


Don't look now, but Shumate is actually pitching like he just might have a future in the big leagues. It's a little early to get real excited, considering he's thrown just 16 2/3 innings, but he seems to be on the right track. He's allowed just 10 hits and 13 walks and struck out 16 in his 18 appearances.

Now 13-to-16 isn't exactly a Maddux-like walk-to-strikeout ratio, but if he continues at this pace for the rest of the year, Shumate will walk fewer batters than he strikes out for the first time as a pro. Since he was drafted in '94, he has walked more hitters than he's struck out in every season except for 1996, when he pitched just three innings and walked two and struck out two.

Where does he fit in the Braves' plans? I'd guess right now they have him chalked up in the pleasant surprise category. Meaning, if he makes it to Atlanta they'll look at his arrival as a pleasant surprise. That's better than where he was about a year ago (snowball's chance in hell category).

Obviously, the Braves and Shumate have to be encouraged with his progress, but he's got to prove he can keep getting Southern League hitters out before anyone can think about National League hitters.

    Can you tell me if Jeff Nettles, a third baseman for the Greensboro Bats, is any relation to former Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles?

    Mike G.

Jeff is Graig's son. In a limited role this season (59 at-bats) he's batting .339 with two homers and 12 RBIs. Nettles, 21, was taken in the 47th round of the '98 draft by the Yankees. He spent his first two seasons in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, hitting .275-6-31 there last year.

May 18, 2000

I've seen several draft-related questions in the inbox lately, and I can assure you that they all should be answered soon. On this site, but not by me. In the month of May we joke around here that Allan Simpson, editor and founder of BA, holes up in the "draft bunker" to prepare for the big day, talking to seemingly every scout and coach with access to a phone. We will be unveiling the fruits of his labor next week when we launch our serious draft preview on BA Online.

I have to think that when we post everything we've got on the draft, every question that has been sent in so far will be answered in one form or another. So tune in for that next week. And in the meantime, here's a bunch of non-draft related questions.

    I read your article about injuries and why players can't be found. My question is about Sean Burroughs. I see his stats are not what the Padres expected this year in Double-A Mobile. He has not played in over a week. Is he benched or injured?

    Thanks in advance,

    Scott Sahr

Burroughs missed eight games at Mobile with a wrist injury, but he's back in the lineup now. His numbers aren't near what they were last year, but he's getting his average up (.277). Still not hitting for any power, though, with no homers and five doubles in 112 at-bats.

I'm not sure we can say whether those are the numbers the Padres expected, but it's safe to assume there were a lot of others who expected to see more. But it's been said that the jump from Class A to Double-A is the toughest one to make, and Burroughs is making it basically from low A-ball. He moved to the California League for the last week of the season and the playoffs last year, but spent most of the 1999 season at Fort Wayne.

One more thing to keep in mind is that Burroughs is 19, playing in Double-A. He's one of the youngest players in the Southern League and it's not such a blemish on him to not be taking it by storm from Day One.

The same goes for Cubs center-fielder-of-the-future Corey Patterson, who caused a stir with his often stunning spring training performance. He's a year older than Burroughs but has only one year of prior service, all at low Class A Lansing. He got off to a terrible start at West Tenn and has since showed flashes of what he's capable of doing. His numbers last season were tremendous in every category except walk-to-strikeout ratio (25-to-85). Not surprisingly, his numbers there need to improve this year (8-to-33), but that will likely come with time. Through West Tenn's first 39 games he's hitting .246 with six homers and 25 RBIs.

    I heard that Braves prospect Scott Sobkowiak has been injured. What is the prognosis? Will he be back this year?


Sobkowiak, the No. 4 prospect in the Braves organization, had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. He's likely to miss the rest of the season. He was 2-1 with a 4.63 ERA in four starts at Double-A Greenville before he went down.

    What happened to the Detroit Tigers' highly touted pitcher Matt Drews? Was he traded or has he left baseball completely?

Drews was released this spring before the season started, ending a dreadful run with the Tigers. A first-round pick of the Yankees in 1993, Drews looked like a future star early in his career. In '94 he went 7-6 with a 2.10 ERA in the short-season New York-Penn League and in '95 he went 15-7, 2.27 in the Class A Florida State League.

Then the Yankees decided to challenge him with a jump to Triple-A Columbus to open the '96 season. Bad idea. Drews completely lost his mechanics and worked his way backwards through the system after starting 0-4 with an 8.41 ERA at Columbus. In July of that year, the Yankees sent him to the Tigers along with Ruben Sierra in exchange for Cecil Fielder.

The 6-foot-8 righthander never even came close to returning to form in three-plus seasons with the Tigers, posting a 15-48 record over that time. Last season he went 2-14 with an 8.27 ERA at Triple-A Toledo. This spring he signed with the Devil Rays, but they released him this week and he's once again out of work.

    Could you give us the lowdown (age, draft choice, skills) on Bobby Darula who's hitting .426 for Beloit in the Midwest League?

    Bruce Norlander
    Minneapolis, MN

Darula has kind of an interesting story in that he actually retired for a while during the 1998 season. Later he decided to come back to the game and he spent the entire 1999 season at Beloit, hitting .304-4-75. He originally signed with the Brewers as a nondrafted free agent in 1996 out of Division II Eckerd (Fla.) College.

He's 25 and DHing in low Class A ball, so he's not exactly on the fast track to the big leagues, but he is tearing the cover off the ball and it will be interesting to see what he can do if the Brewers give him a shot at a higher level.

In addition to hitting .426, Darula's getting on base at a .537 clip for Beloit. In 33 games, he's driven in 24 runs with only one home run. Power isn't a big part of his game as he's hit just 15 homers in 851 career at-bats.

    Can you give me any information on Cardinals farmhand Cristobal Correa? It seems like this 20-year-old has come out of nowhere to put up some great numbers: 2.11 ERA, 42 2/3 IP, 29 hits allowed, 21 BB, 38 K's. Did the Cardinals draft him or was he signed outside of the draft? Any information would be great.

    Tony Leopold

Correa, who currently ranks third in the Class A Carolina League in ERA, is a Venezuelan who signed with the Cardinals in May 1998. The 6-foot-1 righthander went 3-3 with a 2.94 ERA at short-season New Jersey last year, striking out 59 in 52 innings. He also struggled to an 0-2, 10.35 record in five starts in the Class A Midwest League in '99. This year he's been the best pitcher on a Potomac staff that also includes early-round 1999 picks Chance Caple and Josh Pearce.

May 16, 2000

I have some fresh information on some of the MIA players we talked about last Thursday, and information on a couple of others as well.

John Nicholson was in extended spring training learning how to play the outfield at the beginning of the season, but our Expos correspondent Michael Levesque reports that he actually retired from baseball in mid-April. So the answer to "where is he now?" in Nicholson's case would be "home."

And Jermaine Van Buren is in extended spring training, but he's not rehabbing from an injury. I said last week I'd heard he had torn his labrum but I couldn't confirm that. Van Buren's problem is simply a lack of velocity. The Rockies are keeping him in extended spring training to give him time to recover the power on his fastball.

In 1998 in the Rookie-level Arizona League, Van Buren was regularly at 92-94 mph with his fastball. That year he won the AZL triple crown, going 7-2 with a 2.22 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 65 innings. He was named the No. 2 prospect in the league that year, behind Athletics righthander Jesus Colome.

Last year at Class A Asheville, Van Buren's velocity began to tail off and he went 7-10, 4.91. He still struck out 133 in 143 innings, but he was nowhere near as dominant as the previous season.

According to Paul Egins, the Rockies' director of minor league operations, Van Buren is back up to the 88-89 mph range these days and the team is hopeful that he'll be able to go to Asheville or short-season Portland when he's ready to pitch like he can again. The Rockies aren't exactly sure why he lost so much arm strength, but they have worked a lot on his mechanics and they've seen enough improvement to be encouraged.

I also had a question from someone last week that I couldn't answer, but by mere serendipity, the answer came to me. Here, at last, is the question:

    I have been unable to find stats on Arizona prospect Andrew Good (No. 12 on your Top 10 list) this year. Is he hurt? Could you please update me on him and his progress? Thanks.


Good's father happened to see the list we did on the pitchers who have recently had Tommy John surgery, and wrote to say that we could add Good to that list.

Good suffered a serious elbow injury in a spring training game in mid-March. He was under the knife less than two weeks later. He's now rehabbing down in Arizona and has his sights set on a spring training return next year. His father reports that he is making steady progress and getting stronger every day.

While we're on the subject of injuries, I learned this week that one of my favorites in the Mariners organization is going to be down for the next couple of months. Peanut Williams had surgery yesterday to have bone chips removed from his elbow.

Williams missed almost half the season last year after breaking his hand when he was hit by a pitch. He still managed to crank out 28 home runs in 304 at-bats, mostly at Class A Lancaster. This year, he was hitting .218 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 110 at-bats at Lancaster.

Okay, let's get on to some new questions . . .

    Hey, I was wondering if you can tell me what a draft and follow signing is. I've been reading the term everywhere in the draft section on your website but I don't have a clue as to what it means. Thanks and keep up the great job.

    Phillip Khaylo

The term "draft-and-follow" refers to players who have been drafted in one year's draft and signed just before the follow year's. This is limited to junior college players, as players at four-year schools are no longer eligible to sign once they start classes in the fall. Players who attend jucos are eligible to sign with the team that drafted them the previous June up until a week before that year's draft.

A true draft-and-follow is a high school or juco player that a team picks relatively late in the draft with the intention of waiting and seeing how they develop over the next year. Some of these players blossom into potential high-round picks with an additional year of seasoning and they sign for several hundred thousand dollars.

Other players, like Orioles prospect Matt Riley, sign the year after they're drafted, but they weren't picked with the draft-and-follow process in mind. The Orioles took Riley in the third round of the '97 draft after he had had a disappointing spring and saw his draft stock slip. Riley wanted first-round money, so he didn't sign and instead went to Sacramento City College for a year and saw his stock rise back up. He signed with the Orioles in May 1998 for $750,000, which is about what players who were drafted in the supplemental first round got that year.

If you're interested in learning more about the process, check out a story we ran on it this time last year.

While we're on the topic of baseball lingo, I've seen a couple of questions about the "Mendoza Line." I thought everyone knew this one, because it's actually used way too frequently, especially by folks like Chris Berman, who uses all three of the tricks in his bag way too frequently. But I guess not everyone is familiar with it after all.

The "Mendoza Line" is a .200 batting average. It's named after former big league shortstop Mario Mendoza, who was actually a .215 career hitter in nine big league seasons. It's been reported from time to time that he's not real thrilled to have the stigma of a low batting average associated with him, but he's probably stuck with it for the rest of his life and then some.

According to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Mendoza has former Mariners teammates Bruce Bochte and Tom Paciorek to thank for this legacy. Apparently while Mendoza was playing with the Mariners in 1979-80 he was bouncing back and forth above and below the .200 mark. Bochte and Paciorek picked up on this and coined the term. Hall of Famer George Brett has also been credited with the term, but the DBD seems to indicate that Brett is likely to have picked up on the term after the Mariner duo came up with it.

By the way, if you're looking for a way to spend $20, you could do a lot worse than buying the Dickson Baseball Dictionary. Every fan, no matter how closely they've been following the game, can surely learn a lot from thumbing through there.

    I have an original uniform from Lancaster in the Ohio State League from the early 1900s. The uniform was worn by John S. Girton, pitcher. I believe this team was an early form of the Reds. Do you have any information on this? Thanks.

According to the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, the Lancaster team played in the Ohio State League from 1908-11. In 1908 they were known as the Red Roses and they won the league with a 92-57 record. The next three seasons they were called the Lanks and they didn't see much success. In 1909, the Lanks disbanded part way through the season and in 1910 and '11 they finished next-to-last both times.

The Reds are the oldest professional team going, dating back to 1869, when they became the first club to pay all of their players. So the Lancaster club of the early 1900s was not a predecessor of the Reds. Whether there was any kind of informal relationship between the teams, I don't know, but the early 1900s was well before teams began formal farm systems, so there was probably no official tie between the two.

May 12, 2000

There's some updated news on one of the players I mentioned yesterday, so I wanted to include it here. I said Diamondbacks' top prospect John Patterson was going to visit Dr. Lewis Yocum, but that there were no indications he'd need Yocum's specialty: Tommy John surgery. Well, now there are. Patterson will get a second opinion from Yocum, but he and the Diamondbacks are fearing that he'll need to have the ligament transplant operation. According to the Arizona Republic, Patterson said an MRI revealed there was "not much of a ligament at all" left in his elbow. That's not a good sign. Patterson has apparently already taken a number with Dr. James Andrews, who did Kerry Wood's elbow, among others.

The Republic also mentioned that Nick Bierbrodt's back injury could keep him out for another two months.

May 11, 2000

I'm seeing a lot of questions these days that run along the lines of "What happened to Prospect X? Why isn't he playing?" A whole lot. Like maybe half the questions that people send in since the season started.

I hate that we can't answer them all, but the truth is, we don't know in many cases what's holding someone back. Most times it's a minor injury of some type and the player is rehabbing in extended spring training. These cases are so common that they don't make a lot of news unless it's a really noteworthy prospect. That's one reason it's so hard to find out what happened to these guys.

Of course, there are a lot of questions about players who are perfectly healthy, but still don't appear on a full-season roster. This again is very common for young players who were drafted last year, etc. If someone played last year in the Rookie Leagues and doesn't appear on a Class A roster right now, he most likely will be assigned to a short-season league next month.

As for players on the Top 100 list, I'm going to refer you to the Top 100 Prospects Update we did last week. We'll update it at the beginning of each month. Some people are still sending Nick Johnson and Wilfredo Rodriguez questions in and the answers are all there.

That aside, I've turned my attention today to tracking down a few of the MIAs. Here's what we know . . .

    I was wondering how Jeremy Ward (Arizona Diamondbacks) is doing this year. It appears that he has only thrown two innings this year. Is he hurt or has something happened to him. Isn't he close to being called up?

    Jack Neumann
    Long Beach, CA

Ward has been suffering from tendinitis in his right elbow. He was looking like he was about ready to get back into game action this week, but apparently he's had a minor setback and his return is still up in the air.

It's a shame, because if Ward could have picked up where he left off last year, he'd be knocking on the door of the big leagues right now. He made short work of the Diamondbacks minor leagues, reaching Triple-A just a couple of months after signing.

Ward isn't alone on the DL at Triple-A Tucson. Lefthander Nick Bierbrodt and righthander John Patterson are out as well. Bierbrodt has been bothered by a back injury. Patterson had barely come off the DL before he was back on it. He is having a lot of pain in his elbow that might be caused by a bone spur. He's scheduled to see Dr. Lewis Yocum tomorrow. Yocum has done his share of Tommy John surgeries, but so far there are no indications Patterson will be in for anything that serious.

    I heard something happened to Luis Rivera's shoulder. Is this serious? Any updates as to his condition? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

    Harrisburg, PA

Rivera left a game against Buffalo a week ago tonight after warming up for the third inning. He complained of tightness in his shoulder, though an examination by the team doctor after the game didn't reveal anything too serious. He was placed on the 7-day disabled list as a precautionary measure, so if everything is going well, he could be back in action this weekend.

    I can't find any info on these guys who don't seem to appear on any minor league rosters: Chris Enochs (Oakland), Jermaine Van Buren (Colorado) and John Nicholson (Montreal). Can you help me out?

    Allen Telgenhof
    Charlevoix, MI

Enochs and fellow A's prospect Eric DuBose have both been bothered by shoulder pain this year. Niether is expected to require surgery, and Enochs could be back in action before too much longer.

Van Buren is in extended spring training, rehabbing from an injury. I believe it was a labrum tear, but I haven't been able to confirm that, try as I might this afternoon. Righthander Matt Roney, the Rockies' first-round pick in 1998, is in extended spring, rehabbing as well. Roney missed the entire 1999 season after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder. The Rockies expect him to return to action soon, either at Class A Asheville or short-season Portland.

Nicholson is in extended spring training, learning how to play the outfield. After injuries cost him virtually the entire 1999 season, I guess he and the Expos gave up on pitching. He split his time in high school between the mound and the outfield, and now he's apparently going to concentrate on hitting after a four-year layoff. It's much more common to see players move the other way, especially those who struggle offensively for a couple of seasons.

    What is the status of injured Yankees prospects Todd Noel and Sam Marsonek? I thought Noel was healthy in spring training but I have not heard anything about Marsonek since the Yankees obtained him in the Chad Curtis deal.

    Robert O'Brien

Noel was sidelined by tendinitis in his shoulder. He began throwing again last week and should be back soon. Marsonek had elbow surgery last July and the Yankees said when they acquired him from the Rangers last winter that they expected him to be ready when the season started. Apparently he's a little behind that schedule.

May 9, 2000

Apologies for the lateness of the column today. These things can happen on a deadline day (for the magazine) here. I could have just cranked out a few quick answers and slapped it up on the web a couple hours ago, but, no, you deserve a little more than that. So it took some time. And what's time in the long run? Just another one of those things we never have enough of. Anyway, here are your four questions for the day. See you Thursday.

    What can you tell me about Keith Ginter of the Double-A Round Rock Express. His early hitting statistics are as impressive as any player this year. Just as impressive seems to be his BB totals (25 as of this writing). Does he have a future with Houston?

Ginter is making a push to become the first triple crown winner in the Texas League since . . . last season. Just as Adam Piatt forced himself into the prospect picture, Ginter is making folks take notice. He's currently leading the league in hitting (.440) and is tied for tops in homers, with 11. He's just one behind Midland's Jason Hart for the RBI lead as well, with 38.

Last year at Class A Kissimmee, Ginter hit .263 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 376 at-bats. He was drafted in the 10th round of the 1998 draft, out of Texas Tech. In his first pro season, he was named to the New York-Penn League all-star team after hitting .315 with 22 doubles and eight homers and drawing 60 walks. He's up to 26 walks this year, and getting on base is definitely a big part of his game.

I think you can compare Ginter to Marcus Giles in the Braves system. Neither is your prototypical second baseman, and at first people were reluctant to throw Giles in the prospect category. But he just kept on hitting and after a while people couldn't ignore him any longer. Ginter is actually two years older, so he's joining the prospect party later, but they are both playing at Double-A this year. Of course, Giles doesn't have Craig Biggio standing in his way.

Last year's TL triple crown winner had to move to the outfield to reach the big leagues. I think Ginter would be happy to make that tradeoff if it would help his cause.

    Over the past several years the Mets have traded away the majority of their farm prospects for "established" players. Can you refer to those Mets prospects who have been traded and what they are doing now? Was this a wise business move for New York?

    Josh Lapin
    Madison, WI

It's probably not fair to say they've dealt away "the majority" of their prospects, but the Mets have not been afraid to trade young players in recent years. I went back through the last three years' worth of Mets trades and pulled out the ones that involved prospects of any significant stripe. In most cases, the Mets were the team sending the prospects away, as you can see:

  • Dec. 18, 1997: Traded outfielder Fletcher Bates and lefthander Scott Comer to the Marlins for lefthander Dennis Cook.
  • Feb. 6, 1998: Traded lefthander Jesus Sanchez, righthander A.J. Burnett and outfielder Robert Stratton to the Marlins for lefthander Al Leiter and second baseman Ralph Milliard. (Stratton was later sent back to the Mets for righthander Brandon Villafuerte and infielder Cesar Crespo when his physical revealed a bad back.)
  • May 22, 1998: Traded outfielder Preston Wilson, lefthander Ed Yarnall and a player to be named (lefthander Geoff Goetz) to the Marlins for catcher Mike Piazza.
  • July 31, 1998: Traded outfielder Bernard Gilkey and righthander Nelson Figueroa to the Diamondbacks for righthander Willie Blair and catcher Jorge Fabregas.
  • July 31, 1998: Traded righthander Leoncio Estrella to the Blue Jays for outfielder Tony Phillips.
  • Dec. 10, 1998: Traded third baseman Joe Randa to the Royals for outfielder Juan LeBron.
  • Dec. 14, 1998: Traded outfielder Butch Huskey to the Mariners for righthander Lesli Brea.
  • June 18, 1999: Traded lefthander Allen Watson to the Mariners for righthander Mak Suzuki and a player to be named (righthander Justin Dunning).
  • July 23, 1999: Traded outfielder Terrence Long and lefthander Leoner Vasquez to the Athletics for lefthander Kenny Rogers.
  • Dec. 23, 1999: Traded outfielder Roger Cedeno, righthander Octavio Dotel and lefthander Kyle Kessel to the Astros for lefthander Mike Hampton and outfielder Derek Bell.

What has this netted the Mets? Dennis Cook, Mike Hampton, Al Leiter, Mike Piazza and Derek Bell at the major league level, and Juan LeBron, Lesli Brea and Justin Dunning on the farm. All that at the cost of A.J. Burnett, Octavio Dotel, Jesus Sanchez, Geoff Goetz, Ed Yarnall, Leo Vasquez, Nelson Figueroa, Leo Estrella, Preston Wilson, Terrence Long, Roger Cedeno and a few other semi-prospects.

Talentwise that's probably a wash. Maybe the Mets are actually ahead when you figure that not every prospect they dealt away is going to blossom into a productive major leaguer. Burnett and Dotel could hurt, and hurt for years, if they pitch like it seems that they are capable. But you've got to give up something to get something.

The bottom line is that the Mets would have a much younger team with a lower payroll had they not made these deals. They also might not have made the playoffs last year and maybe the entire John Rocker incident never would have occured, because Mets fans wouldn't have gotten on him like they did. Think about that. We could have had an offseason where we didn't see Ol' Rockhead on the tube every five minutes. If Mets GM Steve Phillips had known what the future held when he started sending all his prospects to the Marlins, maybe things would have turned out differently.

As it is, he probably doesn't have too much to regret. They didn't win the World Series, and they have a lot of holes in their farm system, but they still do have something to show for most of the deals they made. I guess it all depends on your view of what constitutes "wise business." There are certainly other teams out there that have done a much poorer job over the last three years.

    What do the Brewers plan on doing with Brad Tyler in Indianapolis. He's put up great numbers so far, and I hear trade rumors about a Burnitz trade.

    Mike Rogers
    Fond du Lac, WI

Tyler is actually a month older than Burnitz, so he's not part of the outfield of the future in Milwaukee. He's in his seventh Triple-A season, and has generally put up solid numbers at that level. This year at Indianapolis he's hitting .342 with one homer and 12 RBIs.

I know the Brewers have a loyal base of fans, but if they were to replace Burnitz with Tyler, I think that might change in a hurry. Even truly dedicated fans can only take so much.

    Is there any reason to think that plate discipline can be taught and if so, is it necessarily best taught in the minor leagues? Is the fact that the Oakland system is full of prospects with good patience due to good coaching or simply due to drafting players who were already good judges of the strike zone? Also, is a young player like Wilton Veras, who will swing at anything he can reach, a lost cause in the majors and better served by more 'seasoning' in the minors. Or is it better for such players to discover for themselves the results such free-swinging practices will inevitably bring against major league pitching?

    Somerville, MA

Like just about everything else in baseball, I think plate discipline is best taught in the minor leagues. It's an important part of the game, and a facet that is often missing when young players get rushed to the big leagues. The A's have put a distinct emphasis on it in their system, basically requiring that their players learn to walk. It's no coincidence that you see so many high on-base percentages in the A's system.

If you look through the career stats of a minor leaguer and don't see any trend toward the good in his walks, the odds are pretty good it's not going to all of a sudden just click into place for him when he reaches the big leagues. He'll probably never learn to walk much. That doesn't mean he's not capable of learning to walk, but only that he's not really interested in doing so, for whatever reason. Perhaps if his organization stressed to him that his learning to walk once a week was a condition of major league employment, he would suddenly find the interest.

I'm not sure sometimes who is doing the "discovering" when a young big leaguer can't draw a walk to save his life. Is it him, or is it his team? How long should a team put up with a .280 on-base percentage from an "aggressive" hitter? What the team usually discovers, if you give them enough time, is that some players are just never going to walk very often. And if you put enough of those guys in one lineup, you can finish in last place.

May 4, 2000

The big topic of conversation around the office today hasn't been the ridiculous Pedro suspension or Pete Rose's even more ridiculous "baseball treats me like a leper" rant. We're all talking about the big "I Love You" e-mail virus here today. We haven't actually been hit by it directly, but it sure is making life on the Internet slow, and forget about e-mail. It's faster to use the post office today.

It's difficult to understand the mindset of someone who takes joy in deliberately causing harm to complete strangers around the world. Surely the people who construct e-mail viruses must have some social problems. They're like this generation's version of the "super villains" on the old Superfriends cartoons. If we could just get them to use their power for good instead of evil, we might be able to unlock all the mysteries of the universe, like, for example, this question here:

    What's the deal with the Brewers' Nick Neugebauer? It seems like he needs to breathe through his eyelids or something. What are the Brewers going to do to get him straightened out?

    Andy Wiesner
    Sun Prairie, WI

Neugebauer simply needs to improve his mechanics. Of course, that's not a simple thing to do, especially for a kid as big (read "overweight" if you want) as he is.

Neugebauer's line this year is really similar to last season's, with a twist. Last year, in 81 innings he allowed 50 hits and 80 walks and struck out 125. This year he's still not giving up many hits, but his control has gone from bad to really bad. In 16 2/3 innings he's given up nine hits and 31 walks and struck out 22. All his ratios are about the same as last year, but the walks. It's early and a few good starts could get him back on track, but he's not likely to turn into a precision shooter overnight.

Neugebauer is a high-risk, high-reward prospect. It's always fun to see a young kid who can let loose in the high 90s, but it's nice when they can actually throw strikes, too. For my money, I think Neugebauer has as good a chance at being the next Robbie Beckett (a righthanded version) as he does of becoming a big winner in the big leagues. He's got a chance to be a star, but there are some definite adjustments to be made.

    Can you update me on the status of Yankees' uber prospect Nick Johnson? I read that he has been put on the 60-day disabled list with a sprained right wrist.


Johnson was moved from the 15-day to the 60-day DL last week. He's not recovering as quickly as the Yankees had hoped, but he still could be back soon. He's on the major league DL, so when he's ready to come back he can go to a minor league team on a rehab assignment, probably at Triple-A Columbus. When that's done, he'll likely be optioned to Columbus.

If you're interested in what's going on with anyone on the Top 100 Prospects list, check out the update we did yesterday. We tracked down every player and wrote a short status report on what he's doing. All the injuries are updated there, so if you have any questions check it out. We'll try to do that every month and maybe pre-empt some of questions we receive in e-mail this season.

    I was looking at the Mets minor league stats and came across a first baseman named Mark Johnson. I noticed that he was the league leader in many categories as well as being a lefthanded hitter. He wasn't on your list of prospects so I was wondering what you can tell me about him and, considering Zeile's age, if he is a legitimate prospect and if he could have a future with the Mets.


The Mark Johnson that is tearing it up for Triple-A Norfolk this year is the guy who played in the major leagues with the Pirates and Angels from 1995-98. In 294 major league games, he batted .236 with 30 homers and 104 RBIs. He's 32 years old, which makes him two years younger than Zeile.

Johnson spent last season with Hanshin in the Japan League, hitting .253 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs. He's hitting .347 with seven homers and 25 RBIs this year.

    Do you have any idea why the Indians placed Scott Morgan on waivers especially after the breakthrough season he had last year? I know the Indians have a crowded outfield, but what veteran did they have take his spot on the 40-man roster? I thought they could have at least traded him if they do not have any room for him. Indians loss and the Angels gain. Please tell me if you have any insight as to why this move was made.

    Brian Bayer
    Dallas, PA

Morgan was designated for assignment to get catcher Bobby Hughes onto the major league roster. Hughes was brought up from Buffalo to serve as Einar Diaz' backup after Sandy Alomar went on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. The Indians must have known they were likely to lose Morgan, but they needed the 40-man roster spot and had to make a tough decision. It's often difficult to trade a player in a situation like that because you have no leverage. The Indians surely must have checked around and learned they could get little or nothing in return. So they let him go to the Angels for the $20,000 waiver claim price.

    Montreal is bringing up Felipe Lira so I clicked on his numbers to see how he is doing in Triple-A to justify bringing him up. What I saw is, not much, because he is 0-3 after four starts with more hits allowed than innings pitched. General managers must look for something other than numbers when they decide to bring up a veteran like Lira from the minor leagues. If so, what?

    Tom McCullough,
    York, PA

There are a lot of times when a team needs a spot start or two and they don't want to disturb the progress of their top prospects who might not be quite ready. So they reach down and grab a Felipe Lira and hope he can give them five good innings.

Lira is not a good major league pitcher, but at least he's been there before and he's not going to panic in a big league stadium. And in his defense, he has walked just three batters in 20 innings this year, so his 0-3 record and 4.95 ERA don't tell the whole story.

Still, you know what you're getting when you run a guy like Lira out there, and if you're lucky maybe you'll score 10 runs that day and squeak out a win. If you're not lucky, you lose the game.

But letting Felipe Lira take a loss for your team isn't really the worst thing that can happen. Sometimes you have to take a forest for the trees look at things, especially if your other option is bringing up a young pitcher who might have a much brighter future but isn't quite ready now.

    Can you tell me where Jerry Gil -- the No. 11 prospect for the Arizona Diamondbacks according to your [Top 10] list -- is playing these days? I can't seem to find him anywhere.

    Mike G.

Gil, 17, is in extended spring training right now. Over the winter the Diamondbacks said they thought he would begin his career at Class A South Bend, but that didn't happen. I'd guess he'll make his pro debut with Rookie-level Missoula this summer.

Gil, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound Dominican, signed with the Diamondbacks last November for $767,500. Arizona loves his power, arm and speed.

    I would like to have your opinion of Eric Johnson playing for the Columbus Red Stixx in the Indians farm system. I had to do a double take when I saw his stolen base numbers. Does he really have 24 stolen bases at this point in the season? I know he's 22 years old, but last year was his first professional season. Does he project as a quality prospect in the long run?

    Erik (with a "k") Johnson

Johnson is 24-for-27 in the stolen base department this season. Last year he swiped a combined total of 25 at Rookie-level Burlington and short-season Mahoning Valley. A third-round pick last year, Johnson played both football and baseball at Western Carolina. He was a Division I-AA all-America safety on the football team and some speculated he'd opt for a career in the NFL, especially because he didn't play baseball full-time until last spring.

He's making quick adjustments and has the athleticism to become a real good player. Johnson is hitting .273-2-10 at Columbus and has drawn a team-best 17 walks.

May 2, 2000

One clever BA reader wrote in last week to ask if Nolan Ryan were the worst victim of Baseball America's cover jinx that we could recall. Not to make light of Ryan's recent health problems, but the timing wasn't really the best. We're all glad that he seems to be okay and will make a full recovery.

But we started wondering if maybe there really were a BA cover curse when Shannon Stewart went on the DL this weekend. We were aware of his hamstring problem when we chose him for the cover, but believed he'd be back in action by the time the issue hit the newsstand. We were right, sort of. He did get back in action—for one game. Then he went straight to the DL. Again, not real good timing.

Just a word of caution to everyone out there. Dump Darin Erstad from your fantasy team while you can. He's on tap for our next cover.

    I was looking through the stats of two "five tool" players of the future: Wily Mo Pena and Christan Guerrero. However, I was disappointed to see such low OBA and poor BA. Is there any disappointment or concern in the Yankee and Brewer camps over their starts? I know that these types of players take years to develop and are still young, but the Yankees must have Pena on their MLB roster in 2003.

    Just wondering,
    Chris Checchin
    Pickering, ON

Pena and Guerrero are off to slow starts. They are young. They may struggle for a while. That's what young players do in low Class A. And keep in mind that you're talking in both cases about a small sampling of at-bats.

As for young tools players like Guerrero and Pena not drawing walks, I don't worry about that so much with a player in the Midwest or South Atlantic leagues. If they don't show any improvement as they climb the ladder, like Ruben Rivera for example, then I start to worry a little. But 18- and 19-year-old players tend to struggle sometimes with the strike zone. I wouldn't guess either the Brewers or the Yankees are concerned with the progress of their young players thus far.

Speaking of Guerrero, I received this e-mail this afternoon and wondered what calamity could have befallen him.

    What happen to Cristian Guerrero? The Beloit Snappers informed me that he suffered an awful injury and is currently rehabbing in Phoenix, AZ. Can you please let me know the extent of his injury, how this might affect the balance of his career and will be play again this season?

    D. Cornell II

I think D. might have been fed some bad info somewhere. Guerrero is on the disabled list with an ingrown toenail. The Brewers expect him to miss a week to 10 days. They don't believe his injury is career threatening. Breathe easy.

    I was wondering why I have seen no reference to Alex Fernandez on any of your top prospect lists. Fernandez, an outfielder in the Mariners organization, was not only the youngest player in the Class A California League, he was the youngest player in full season league in 1999. Despite his age, he still hit .282, with 14 homers, 62 RBIs, 29 doubles, 2 triples and 21 steals. In the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1998, he hit .331-5-31, with 11 doubles, 6 triples and 3 steals in 44 games.

    These stats would be impressive for anyone, but Fernandez is the youngest player in any full season league. He was not even mentioned in the Mariners top 15 prospects. What do you think of him?

I've seen about a bazillion questions on Fernandez since our Mariners Top 10 came out in February. I tried to hint around when asked about him earlier in the year. But here it is with nothing to read between the lines: Maybe he's not as young as you think.

I'd like to stress that I have no idea what the guy's actual birthdate is, but I would bet lunch (our usual wager here at the office), that it is not May 15, 1981.

What happens when you base your scouting reports solely on a player's age is that when a player turns out not to be a certain age, sometimes he doesn't look like such a prospect, after all.

Fernandez' numbers last year at Class A Lancaster weren't bad, but if, theoretically, he were 22 last year instead of 18, would a .282 season with 14 homers in one of the best hitters' leagues in the minors really be that impressive? I would say, no. If he truly is 18, last year's production is highly laudable. Yet, when I spoke with the Mariners people about their Top 10, no one talked the guy up. Not at all. Hmmm. Maybe they know something.

Another player who tore up the California League under a similar cloud of suspicion comes to mind. In 1993, Karim Garcia, then supposedly 17, hit .241 with 20 doubles and 19 homers in 460 at-bats with Bakersfield. That would be an outstanding season for someone who should have been a junior in high school. But rumors circulated at the time that he was probably a couple of years older than his listed age. Given Garcia's pedestrian showing in the big leagues, I tend to believe that he really is a couple of years older than he says.

What will we see out of Fernandez down the road? I'd guess he'll level off at either Double-A or Triple-A. He's off to kind of a slow start at Double-A New Haven this year, at .234-3-10, but that's just a 64 at-bat sampling and too little to base any conclusions on.

Maybe Fernandez will become the next Mariners outfield superstar, but I'd hedge my bets if I were you.

    Do you have the dates for the 2000 draft and what rounds will take place each day?

    D. Blair

According to Major League Baseball, the draft will take place on June 5-7 this year. That's unusual because June 5 is a Monday and the draft doesn't generally begin on a Monday. But times change, I guess. The draft usually takes just two days, so we're expecting it to wrap up on the 6th. If last year is any barometer, they got through 20 rounds the first day and finished it on the second day.

    I will be attending my first minor league game on Tuesday, May 9. I know the Dragons have some good prospects in Adam Dunn, Ty Howington and Austin Kearns. Is there anyone special I should Bee watching on Burlington's roster? Thanks in advance for the scouting report. Keep up the great work!

    Mike Pitt
    Springfield, OH

Mike, the pun almost cost you an answer. But I love some low Class A ball, so I'll help you out.

You're just about guaranteed to see a good pitcher with Burlington. The Bees rotation includes righthanders Gary Majewski, Brian West and Jason Stumm and lefthanders Josh Stewart and Dennis Ulacia. Ulacia has been getting knocked around a little, but the other four have been strong this season.

Majewski, as I may have mentioned last week, was a second-round pick in 1998 and he led the Rookie-level Appalachian League in strikeouts last year. West and Stumm were both first round picks last year. Stumm, the 15th player taken, throws as hard as 96-97 mph but needs to develop his secondary pitches. West, the 35th player drafted, is another big hard-thrower.

As for position players, I'd keep an eye on speedy center fielder Chad Durham, who is 15 for 16 in stealing bases this year; catcher Humberto Quintero, a defensive wiz; and outfielder Spencer Oborn, a third-team All-American at Cal State-Fullerton last year. Second baseman Nilson Teilon, who was impressive in the Appy League last year, owns Burlington's only home run so far this season.

Those are the Bees I'd be watching if I were able to catch a game in Iowa.

    I keep reading about Willie Bloomquist, the second baseman for the Mariners' Class A team in Lancaster, but I was wondering what you think of the potential of Jermaine Clark, who plays second for their Double-A team. I am interested because he is a graduate of the same high school as me, along with Jermaine Dye.

    Michael Vlach

Clark is an interesting player. He has always hit for average so far (.322 career average in three previous seasons), but there's something about his uppercut swing that makes some believe it might not serve him well against higher level pitching. He runs very well, so if he is able to keep getting on base, he could be a pest.

His biggest drawback is his defense. He hasn't shown good range and his footwork isn't very good either.

The key for Clark will be proving he can hit at Double-A and Triple-A. He's doing a good job so far, batting .348 through 20 games at New Haven. If he can keep it up, the Mariners, or some other team, might be willing to overlook his defensive shortcomings.

    Who were the four pitchers for the Baltimore Orioles where each one won 20 games in one season?

    David Baird

In 1971, Dave McNally (21-5), Mike Cuellar (20-9), Jim Palmer (20-9) and Pat Dobson (20-8) led the Orioles to the AL pennant. Between the four of them they threw 70 complete games.

Ten AL pitchers won 20 games that year, with Oakland lefthander Vida Blue capturing the MVP and Cy Young Award with a 24-8 record, a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts in 312 innings.

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