Saturday, October 09, 2004

Bonus Prospect Report

Jeff Baker, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Drafted 111th Overall (4th Round), 2002 Draft, Clemson
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 6'2", 210 lbs

Those who follow prospects closely probably know the story. For those who don't, here's the cliff's notes version. Baker was rated as a high draft prospect after his sophomore year, but had a mediocre junior season, was seen as a tough player to sign, and had mixed reviews in wood bat summer leagues. So instead of being a first round pick, he fell to the 4th round. He did get a major league contract from the Rockies. He then got pushed further down the prospect lists after he hit a relatively disappointing .289/.377/.479 in the Sally League, and had wrist problems.

Well, this was a new year, and Baker came through. He hit .325/.434/.539 with 47 walks, 73 K's, 23 doubles, and 11 home runs in 271 at bats for Visalia. Late in the season, he moved up to AA Tulsa and hit .297/.343/.505 with 8 walks, 22 K's, 5 doubles, and 4 home runs in 91 at bats.

He has power, patience, and makes contact. He even had patience and power in the season that was seen as a disappointment. He also has a good defensive reputation, as some have speculated that he could move to second base. That might be wishful thinking. It has worked out fairly well for Michael Cuddyer, but Jake Gattreau was a disaster. If he can handle it, it would be a big development, as Baker has superprospect Ian Stewart breathing down his neck.

If he avoids more injuries again, he'll quickly pass by Garrett Atkins on the big league club.

ETA: Late 2005
4 Stars

Daily Prospect Report 10/9

Mitch Jones, OF, New York Yankees
Drafted 7th Round, 2000 Draft, Arizona State
Bats R/Throws R
26 YO, 6'2", 215 lbs

Lost in the glow that was Ryan Howard's domination of Eastern League pitching was a similar season by Trenton slugger Mitch Jones. Since being drafted by the Yankees, he advanced quickly to AA, and has since gotten hung up there. He hit 23 home runs for the Thunder in 2003, and slugged 39 balls over the fence this year. His final 2004 line shapes up as .246/.334/.548 in 496 AB. You can tell a lot from a line like that. He obviously doesn't put the ball in play much. He obviously hits it really hard when he does. And he obviously has a nice walk rate. For the record, he struck out 152 times, he smacked 25 doubles and 4 triples to go with his 39 homers. And he drew 68 walks.

The downside is that he's already 26 years old, so the future is now, and he was a little old for AA. He could end up being a late bloomer and contribute off the bench for the Yankees, but unless you have an established reputation as a great prospect, this kind of all or nothing slugger usually has a hard time breaking in as a regular. It would be a shame if he didn't get some sort of audition next season. While being an old prospect tempers expectations, it doesn't mean that he can't be productive. Those in roto leagues can keep him in mind as a deep, deep sleeper candidate for 2005 and 2006.

ETA: 2005
2 1/2 Stars

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bonus Prospect Report

Corey Hart, LF, Milwaukee Brewers
Drafted 11th Round, 2000 Draft, HS, Bowling Green, KY
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 6'6", 200 lbs

I like him. I think he'll make a good major league left fielder. I watched him play this season here in Indy. He has a nice swing with loft and power. It's also a good thing that the Brewers have stopped pretending like Hart is a third baseman. He's a corner outfielder. He compiled a .281/.342/.485 in 441 AAA at bats. For a player that tall, he has good speed, witnessed by his 8 triples and 17 stolen bases, though with 7 times caught stealing, it's barely an asset for the team, and something he would do well to work on. His plate discipline is fair, but could be better.

Because of his size, the comparison that usually comes up with Hart is former Brewers 1B, Richie Sexson. The swing looks similar, and Sexson's 2003 .272/.379/.548 peak looks like a reasonable upside. I'm not sure if he'll ever hit 40 home runs, as Sexson has done. Another reasonable comparison that has always seemed apt to me is Carlos Lee.

ETA: 2005
3 1/2 Stars

Daily Prospect Report 10/8

Jeff Francis, LHP, Colorado Rockies
Drafted 9th Overall, 2002 Draft, University of British Columbia
Bats L/Throws L
23 YO, 6'5", 200 lbs

If the Rox are ever to produce a pitcher through their farm system, this is what he'll look like. His minor league numbers are pretty staggering. In Tulsa this season, he started 17 games, and posted a 1.98 ERA with 73 hits allowed, 22 walks, and 147 K's in 113.2 innings pitched. He only yielded 9 home runs. Then he moved up to the thin air of Colorado Springs, and was just as impressive with a 2.85 ERA, 35 hits allowed, 7 walks, 49 K's, and 3 HR allowed in 41 IP. He earned the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year award.

Will he be successful even when he has to start half his games in the best hitter's park in major league history? I honestly don't know. He struggled with his september callup to the tune of a 5.15 ERA, 42 hits, 13 walks, 32 K's, and HR allowed in 36.2 IP, but as we learned in the Ben Hendrickson profile, it isn't unusual for young pitchers (hitters too, for that matter) to struggle before making adjustments. Also, with park effects being what they are, you have to adjust your scale of what would be considered successful. An ERA under 4 would be very valuable. It also bears mentioning that Colorado Springs is about as close as you could get to Coors Field without actually being there, and he was lights out.

I wouldn't draft him in a roto league, but he's still probably the best pitching prospect in baseball.

ETA: Now
5 Stars

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Daily Prospect Report 10/7

Rob Bowen, C, Minnesota Twins
Drafted 56th Overall, 1999 Draft, HS, Fort Wayne, IN
Bats B/Throws R
23 YO, 6'3", 220 lbs

I really wanted Bowen to succeed. I root for players from Indiana and Illinois out of a kind of local chauvinism. He had a some nice years in the low minors. In 2000, he hit very well in the short season Appalachian League. He followed that up with a good season in the Midwest League, hitting 18 home runs. He had a pretty terrible 2002, and then he started off 2003 hitting .306/.376/.425 at New Britain and moved up to Rochester, where he hit .257/.333/.495. It isn't Mike Piazza, but it is perfectly acceptable from a catcher, especially if the best chance for a job happens to be as a backup to ├╝ber-prospect Joe Mauer. He has some lightning in that bat.

Then 2004 came around, and everything fell apart. He spent all season in New Britain, and was in full meltdown. .197/.292/.345 in 249 at bats is awful. He still is young enough to rebound and grow up to be a major league backup. However, it seems more likely that he'll have to settle for being a journeyman, earning his paychecks playing in places like Charlotte, Tacoma, and Fresno. Don't weep for him if that happens though. Life as a AAA ballplayer isn't a bad fate. You get a low 6 figure salary. AAA ballparks are really nice these days. And cities like Nashville, Tacoma, Memphis, and New Orleans are great places to spend a summer. Then every once in a while, you might get a callup when the big club catches the plague. Heck, even when you retire, you can go find a high school in need of a baseball coach. The biggest downside is the travel schedule, which is pretty hectic.

To wrap up, Bowen is a decent, but unspectacular defensive catcher. He'll never hit for a great batting average, but he has the ability to hit for power. He's still technically a prospect, but he's just barely hanging on. The Twins could use a power hitting backup, with all the uncertainty surrounding Joe Mauer's knee, Henry Blanco's handicap of being Henry Blanco, and Matt LeCroy's marginal defense and injury problems.

ETA: Late 2005
1 1/2 Stars

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Daily Prospect Report 10/6

Shane Costa, CF, Kansas City Royals
Drafted 42nd Overall (2nd Round), 2003 Draft, Cal State Fullerton
Bats L/Throws R
22 YO, 6'0", 200 lbs

Let's stay in Wilmington and cover another interesting member of the Blue Rocks. Costa has physical ability and came into the season with a reputation for good plate discipline. He's currently reworking his swing to adjust for wood bats. He hit .308/.364/.417 with 33 walks, 43 K's, 20 doubles, 4 triples, and 7 home runs in 451 at bats. He supplemented the OBP by getting hit by 11 pitches. He obviously could use some more home runs and a couple dozen more walks, but I'm cautiously optimistic that he'll improve on those secondary skills in the near future. He has good range in center field. He's no elite prospect, but he's still a good one.

ETA: 2007
3 Stars

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Playoff Thoughts

I'll just make some notes from time to time during the playoffs.

-First off, I'll mention who I'm rooting for. In the abscence of the Royals in the playoffs, and the fact that the A's aren't in it either, I'm rooting for the Twins and Cards to get in the series, and the Cards to win the championship. There are two reasons behind this. The first is that I'm a partisan for the midwest. A St Louis/Minnesota World Series is the worst nightmare of MLB and Fox when it comes to ratings, but I think that market size is overrated when it comes to playoff matchups. If the playoffs are compelling, and the play is good, the ratings will be there.

The second reason is because I genuinely am a fan of a lot of the players on each of those teams. I like Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria, Reggie Sanders, Kiko Calero, Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Matt LeCroy, Joe Nathan, and Albert Pujols.

-One thing that surprised me this year was the performance of Brad Radke, who put up a great year. He cut a full run off of his ERA, boosted his K rate, and only allowed opposing hitters to bat .265/.288/.395. I admit. I didn't see it coming at all.

-In game 1, the Cards are really taking it to the Dodgers, leading 8-2 at the end of the 7th, courtesy of 5 home runs. Theoretically, they could do this to the Dodgers all series with the Dodgers rotation being as torn up as it is.

Universal Stupidity

Sabermetrics have taken baseball by storm. We've made it a habit to question the cliches that have been passed down for decades and examine what is really important. You really haven't seen that kind of push in basketball and football. Some of the same diseases that permeate baseball also have a strong hold in football. What prompts me to bring this up? The Colts game on sunday did.

Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio took the gutsy risk of going for it on 4th and 1 on the Indianapolis 24 on the first drive of the game. They didn't make it and they turned the ball over on downs. I don't think this happens enough in football. I'd like to see some studies on success rates on 4th and 1 or 4th and 2. I'd like to see scoring rates. I'd like to find out if my own contrarian instinct is right, and that teams are wasting drives by not going for it on 4th down more often.

Personally, I think there's a groupthink that has infects coaching in all sports that causes them to make decisions that could easily be defended in the court of public opinion, even though the conventional wisdom that surrounds the circumstance is counterproductive. In baseball, sports talk radio is never going to call for a manager's head if he sac bunts TOO often. They'll never rake him over the coals for only using his closer in save situation. They'll only criticize a manager for what is currently considered unconventional tactics. Use a 4 man rotation? Play Earl Weaver station-to-station offense? Use your closer in the 7th innings? These are all things that will cause beatwriters and talking heads to come unglued if it isn't a spectacular success. So managers rarely use these kinds of strategies, even if it is the better strategy. Bring on the scrappy "National League style" baseball. Bring on the Tony LaRussa bullpen management system.

In basketball, coaching groupthink has made offense an endangered species. Because several teams like the Bad Boy Pistons and the Pat Riley Knicks were successful using a slow-it-down offense and a bruising, brutish defense, it has become the defacto blueprint for NBA teams. Almost everybody slows it down. And it is backed up by the basic talk radio mantra of defense wins championships. So no coach will be criticized for playing too defensive. No coach will ever be criticized for subbing in a defensive specialist for a good shooter. We're stuck with awful, unwatchable games from a league where finesse has been ridiculed and eliminated. I have more on this as an aside, but I'll leave that for another day.

In football, you can easily see that going for it on 4th down is a risky thing for a coach to do. If it goes badly, it can cost a coach his job. If it is successful, it is just another decision. Del Rio was especially gutsy because he went for it on 4th and 1 again in the 4th quarter. This time it paid off with a touchdown pass over a surprised Colts defense. That really took guts. If they don't make it THERE, then the story of the game is that Jack Del Rio is an idiot who takes too many risks.

Stupid crap like this can probably be found everywhere. It makes me wonder about the other sports I watch and enjoy. What B.S. conventional wisdom have I been fed in soccer that should really be re-thought. What garbage have I been spoon-fed in Formula 1? I'd love at some point to see a sports world with a sabermetrics equivalent in every sport. Cricket, aussie rules football, hockey, rugby, lacrosse, everywhere you look, there's a contrarian with a calculator and play by play data telling you that the color analysts are full of it. That would be a beautiful sight to see.

Daily Prospect Report 10/5

Donald Murphy, 2B, Kansas City Royals
Drafted 138th Overall (5th Round), 2002 Draft, Orange Coast CC
Bats R/Throws R
21 YO, 5'10", 180 lbs

Ruben Gotay is starting in KC at second right now, and Tony Pena likes what he's seeing. He'll probably like Murphy as well. I think the two are very similar as players. They're both small, scrappy middle infielders with a mediocre glove, gap power, and above average plate discipline and ability to make contact. A late season slump drug his rate stats down. After hitting .313/.397/.425 in Burlington in 2003, he hit .256/.328/.404 this season in Wilmington. Obviously, almost all of his losses were from batting average. He still smacked 47 extra base hits and drew 54 walks in 485 at bats. That's good for a second baseman in a league that's tough on hitters. I think he'll rebound.

ETA: Mid-2006
3 Stars

Monday, October 04, 2004

Daily Prospect Report 10/4

Carlos Quentin, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Drafted 29th Overall, 2003 Draft, Stanford
Bats R/Throws R
22 YO, 6'2", 220 lbs

In his first full professional season, he's made it to AA and will play in the Arizona Fall League. This is one of those situations where the numbers kind of speak for themselves. In 452 at bats between Lancaster (Cal League) and El Paso (Texas League), he hit .332/.437/.549. Of note is that much of the OBP in that came from a record breaking 43 HBP. His walk rate was good, not great with 45 free passes being given to Quentin. He also has a reputation of being a good defensive right fielder, though he had Tommy John surgery in 2003.

The downsides are as follows. Lancaster and El Paso are both very extreme hitters parks, so some of those raw numbers are inflated, and since Tucson is a high altitude bandbox as well, it will be hard to figure out exactly how much of those rate stats will translate to a more neutral setting. The other downside is the potential health impact of those HBP rates. Craig Biggio stayed relatively healthy through most of his career while getting plunked at alarming rates, but Nick Johnson, has been extremely fragile. You have to figure that being hit by 3-4 dozen pitches a season can't be good for you. Some are going to be gentle taps that graze the uniform or bounce off an elbow pad, but some are going to fastballs to the ribs and wrists.

ETA: Late 2005/Early 2006
4 Stars

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Bonus Prospect Report

Jon Knott, LF/1B, San Diego Padres
Signed as an undrafted free agent, Mississippi State
Bats R/Throws R
26 YO, 6'3", 220 lbs

Here's what you need to know. He came into 2004 with a career minor league line of .300/.402/.528, and he hit .290/.376/.533 this season in Portland. He's old for a prospect, and he struck out 110 times. But he can hit. He slugged 26 home runs and drew 58 walks in 435 at bats. Also of note is that while the PCL still has a lot of extreme hitters parks, Portland is a big pitcher's park

He's not a good defensive outfielder. But if you need a DH, 1B, or LF who can hit, there are a whole lot of less savory options out there. He's as ready as he'll ever be, and while he's not going to be a star (don't expect him to follow in Travis Hafner's footsteps), he'll be above league average right now. Teams like the Braves, Orioles, and Mets should be keeping him in mind for next season.

ETA: 6 Months ago
2 1/2 Stars

Daily Prospect Report 10/3

Zach Duke, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drafted 20th Round, 2001 Draft
Bats L/Throws L
21 YO, 6'2", 200 lbs

I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea that people who were born in 1983 are legally able to purchase alcohol. I'm 28 now, and I still remember those days 7 1/2 years ago when I was just a punk kid that was underage. It doesn't feel like it was 7 1/2 years ago. What does this have to do with Zach Duke? Nothing really. It's just something that came to mind as I was writing the header.

Duke is another in the tradition of Paul Maholm. Granted he was a late round high school pick instead of a first round college kid. But he's another command and control lefty. Duke dominated Carolina League and Eastern League hitters this season. He's only 21 years old and he put up a composite line of 1.46 ERA, 26 GS, 148.1 IP, 142 K, 31 BB. That's domination.

He doesn't light you up, but he has a great curve, and a good feel for pitching. I don't see any reason he can't keep it up in AAA next year and in the majors in 2006. He's a better pitching prospect than the more publicized, higher drafted John VanBenschoten, Paul Maholm, and Bryan Bullington.

ETA 2006
4 Stars

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