Saturday, March 26, 2005

Jeff Miller Report

Jeff Miller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drafted 444th Overall (15th Rd), 2001 Draft, University of New Orleans
Bats R/Throws R
25 YO, 6'4", 230 lbs

Miller is a reliever prospect who had a breakout 2004 season in the Eastern League. He's another fastball/slider power reliever who pounds the strikezone. The velocity on his heater is only in the low 90's, but he has good control over it and mixes it well with his breaking ball. The command and approach is a bit surprising since he was primarily an outfielder in college, and may I add, a pretty decent one as he hit .338/.427/.502 in 2001 for the alma mater or the OTHER Ervin Johnson.

2004 Altoona: 2.91 ERA, 79 K, 28 BB, 48 H, 8 HR, 68 IP
mL Career: 3.62 ERA, 241 K, 86 BB, 254 H, 23 HR, 271 IP

He's currently on the 40 man roster, though he'll spend a considerable amount of time here in Indy this season. If he can repeat the success of 2004, he stands a great chance of ending the season in Western Pennsylvania. He missed the start of the 2003 season with a shoulder problem, but there haven't been any reports of further problems. All in all, he's an overlooked prospect, but a good one. He also is in an organization that is likely to produce an opportunity if he continues to perform.

ETA: Late 2005
3 1/2 Stars

Jesse Crain Report

Jesse Crain, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Drafted 61st Overall (2nd Rd), 2002 Draft, University of Houston
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 6'1", 205 lbs

With a mid 90's fastball and a plus slider, he's a closer waiting to happen. Crain was a closer in college before being drafted. The Twins love him and it is easy to see why.

2004 Rochester: 2.49 ERA, 64 K, 17 BB, 38 H, 5 HR, 51 IP
2004 Minnesota: 2.00 ERA, 14 K, 12 BB, 17 H, 2 HR, 27 IP
mL Career: 1.94 ERA, 207 K, 53 BB, 95 H, 5 HR, 162 IP

Dominance! The only 2 complaints are the big jump in his walk rate after he was promoted to the Metrodome and a tendency to be wild inside the strikezone this season. That's not too much of a worry in my opinion. He never had problems with the walk at any point in the minors, usually being well within league norms. And he hadn't given up a home run in his entire professional career before 2004, so I'm willing to think that both were correctable. I blame the walk rate spike on nerves, as it is pretty common to see a young pitcher overthrowing in his first major league exposure.

Crain is going into this season as Joe Nathan's setup man. He's a logical candidate to succeed him at the glamour position. Keeping in mind standard pitching caveats (injury, trade to Colorado, sudden Matt Anderson-style collapse), he should be a very successful reliever for a decade or more.

ETA: Opening Day
4 Stars

Friday, March 25, 2005

Brad Baker Report

Last weekend it was catchers. This weekend, we're dealing with relievers, and there are some good ones breaking in right now.

Brad Baker, RHP, San Diego Padres
Drafted 40th Overall, 1999 Draft, HS, Northfield, MA
Bats R/Throws R
24 YO, 6'2", 180 lbs

What a long, strange trip it's been for Baker. He was drafted by his hometown Red Sox (who have long-standing tendency to draft locals) and he rewarded them with some good seasons in the low minors, ranking as one of their better prospects back when Tony Blanco was the apple of Peter Gammons's eye. Then he was traded to the Padres in 2002 and after some health problems and a lot of flakiness, he was sent to the bullpen, where it all came together.

2004 Mobile: 1.57 ERA, 24 BB, 68 K, 37 H, 2 HR, 57 IP
2004 Portland: 0.93 ERA, 4 BB, 17 K, 5 H, 0 HR, 10 IP
mL Career: 3.47 ERA, 269 BB, 568 K, 490 H, 27 HR, 557 IP

The stats tell you a lot in this case. He gives up more walks than you'd like, but he has a changeup that's almost impossible to make good contact with and a 90 MPH fastball for show. He misses a lot of bats, doesn't give up hits, and when he does give up a hit, it almost never goes over the fence. He isn't the stereotypical power reliever, but he's damned effective, and he should fit in nicely with Trevor Hoffman and Akinori Otsuka.

ETA: Early 2005
3 1/2 Stars

Brooks Conrad Report

Brooks Conrad, 2B, Houston Astros
Drafted 236th Overall (8th Rd), 2001 Draft, Arizona State
Bats B/Throws R
25 YO, 5'11", 190 lbs

Here's a player to root for if you're sabermetrically-inclined. In the old days, Baseball Prospectus would have said something like "Brooks Conrad is a damned fine baseball player and anything else you hear is crap." I'd probably agree with it too. He gets ignored by scouts and GM's, but all he does is hit like a decent third baseman, and play decent defense at a premium position. So he doesn't look like what most major leaguers do. Who really gives a damn anyways?

2004 Round Rock: .290/.365/.477, 39 2B, 6 3B, 13 HR, 63 BB, 105 K, 480 AB
mL Career: .278/.362/.457, 109 2B, 30 3B, 45 HR, 210 BB, 344 K, 1696 AB

His plate discipline is very good. He hits for average. He has a lot more power than you'd expect a second baseman to have. And he's shown it at every step along the way. What the hell else would you want? The fact that he's been passed over completely in 2 straight Rule 5 drafts is a case for Robert Stack. With the lack of good options at the keystone sack, wouldn't a scrappy player who hits be a nice player to have around? Why wouldn't Pittsburgh or Minnesota at least give him a March test run? Come to think of it, a Jason Bartlett/Brooks Conrad middle infield would be a criminally underrated, but ruthlessly effective arrangement.

At best, Conrad is Todd Walker without the platoon issues. At worst, he's a good guy to have waiting in AAA for an opportunity. A good comp if he gets a chance would be Mark Grudzielanek with more walks.

ETA: Late 2005
3 1/2 Stars

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Elliot Johnson Report

Elliot Johnson, 2B, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent, 2002, HS, Thatcher, AZ
Bats B/Throws R
21 YO, 6'0", 171 lbs

Johnson is a speedy middle infielder who caught my eye with his walk rate and the steals.

2004 Charleston: .262/.339/.370, 22 2B, 7 3B, 6 HR, 54 BB, 91 K, 43 SB, 15 CS, 503 AB
mL Career: .253/.346/.344, 36 2B, 8 3B, 7 HR, 110 BB, 171 K, 65 SB, 22 CS, 806 AB

It bears mentioning that he drew 38 walks with 32 strikeouts in 151 South Atlantic League at bats in 2003. You don't find that kind of walk rate in the Rays system. If he maintains that kind of plate discipline and flings a few more flares into the outfield, he has the ability be a very nice leadoff hitter in the near future. You aren't going to see him in the majors anytime soon, but roto players would be well advised to have him on their radar screens starting in 2007.

Defensively, Johnson is still a bit raw. But the Rays should be applauded for finding a legitimate prospect like this when nobody else was interested. This is how scouts earn their stripes. They find a real prospect out in the middle of the no man's land that is the deserts of rural eastern Arizona.

ETA: 2007/2008
3 Stars

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

J.J. Hardy Report

J.J. Hardy, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
Drafted 56th Overall (2nd Rd), 2001 Draft, HS, Tucson, AZ
Bats R/Throws R
22 YO, 6'2", 181 lbs

Hardy is one of the better shortstop prospects in baseball when he's healthy. Notice the qualifier. That if weighs more than 3 Cal Pickerings and a Prince Fielder. It hangs over Hardy in the same way that it hangs over pitching prospects. Hardy was set to take a victory lap in Indy last year before taking the starting shortstop job in Miller Park for the next decade. However, he tore his labrum and was out for most of the season.

2004 Indianapolis: .277/.330/.495, 10 2B, 4 HR, 9 BB, 8 K, 101 AB
mL Career: .272/.335/.402, 69 2B, 2 3B, 25 HR, 111 BB, 133 K, 1142 AB

For reference sake, in his breakout 2003 campaign with Huntsville, he hit .279/.368/.428 with more walks (58) than strikeouts (54). He can hit and he has a good glove. If can stay healthy, he's an All Star. I worry about that shoulder though. His shoulder popped out of socket when he swung at pitch in a spring training game. I don't like the sound of that. And shoulder injuries have a nasty tendency in pitchers to re-occur. I don't know if that tendency carries over to hitters, but it is enough for me to push his final grade down a level. But if he's healthy, he's as good a prospect as Ian Kinsler, and unlike Kinsler, he has the opportunity to stick at shortstop long term.

Hardy's been struggling in spring training, so he's probably heading to Milwaukee's new AAA affiliate in Nashville while Bill Hall acts as the stopgap for at least the first couple months of the season. Long term, Hall is more of a super-utility player and no real threat to Hardy's job security.

ETA: mid 2005
3 1/2 Stars

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Juan Senreiso Report

Juan Senreiso, OF, Texas Rangers
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent, 2000, Dominican Republic
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 6'1", 170 lbs

Senreiso is one of those toolsy guys that scouts find in the fields of Hispaniola. He's fast, has great hand-eye coordination, and a pretty nice arm.

2004 Clinton: .315/.390/.472, 11 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 16 BB, 31 K, 16 SB, 6 CS, 127 AB
2004 Stockton: .296/.344/.442, 12 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 15 BB, 47 K, 12 SB, 5 CS, 233 AB
2004 Frisco: .348/.475/.543, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 2 BB, 7 K, 0 SB, 1 CS, 46 AB
2004 Total: .308/.362/.466, 24 2B, 5 3B, 10 HR, 33 BB, 85 K, 28 SB, 12 CS, 406 AB
mL Career: .256/.310/.377, 78 2B, 19 3B, 26 HR, 114 BB, 359 K, 123 SB, 1601 AB

He benefited a lot from a big bump in his walk rate. He went from being a hopeless hacker to being, well, not as much of a hacker. The walk rate still could stand to improve quite a bit, but he at least doesn't swing at as many sliders in the dirt. He also strikes out more than you'd like to see in a player of this type. He's clearly a ground ball machine that isn't going to hit a lot of big blasts.

His big breakout season benefited a bit from being older than the average Midwest League pawn. Then he no doubt benefited from the California League's cozy ballparks. Those factors padded his numbers, but don't take it mean that he didn't make real progress in 2004. He took a big step forward. In 2003, he put up a .216/.265/.302 in 473 at bats for Clinton. There's a chance he could further improve his game and turn into a poor man's Jeremy Reed. If he doesn't take a big step forward, Coco Crisp is probably what he'll end up looking like. He'll ply his trade in Frisco to start the season.

Thanks to Adam Morris, who helped with this piece among other Ranger reports. He runs a great blog covering all things relevant to baseball in Arlington.

ETA: 2006
3 1/2 Stars

Monday, March 21, 2005

Jonny Gomes Report

Jonny Gomes, OF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Drafted 529th Overall (18th Rd), 2001 Draft, Santa Rosa Junior College
Bats R/Throws R
24 YO, 6'1", 205 lbs

Gomes has the bad fortune to be in the organization least likely to ever give him a real chance. He's a three true outcomes, low batting average slugger in an organization that is very focused on batting average. He's also a poor defensive outfielder in an organization that values defense more than just about anybody. They don't like Gomes all that much.

2004 Durham: .256/.368/.531, 27 2B, 26 HR, 51 BB, 136 K, 22 HBP, 390 AB
mL Career: .266/.394/.527, 92 2B, 16 3B, 89 HR, 230 BB, 535 K, 71 HBP, 1503 AB

So he's never going to hit .300. Heck, he probably won't hit .280. And given 500 at bats, he'd make Adam Dunn's new strikeout record a distant memory. But he'll draw a bunch of walks and he'll hit home runs. He's a much better place to throw playing time than Danny Bautista or Alex Sanchez. I'd also prefer Gomes over Joey Gathright, though a player like Gathright would be useful acting as the slugger's legs.

Nevertheless, the Rays sent Gomes to their minor league camp in favor of Bautista, who retired this weekend. The Rays, lacking the good sense to identify Alex Sanchez for the dreadful player he is, signed the wayward Tiger to be their right fielder. It's just an awful idea on so many levels and there are so many alternatives that would be much more likely to end well.

As to Gomes himself, he's a hard player to project because of the extreme skill set he's carrying around. If you expand his Durham numbers out to 500 at bats, he hits 33 home runs with 65 walks, and 175 strikeouts. That would make him a strikeout artist of the first order. Think Russ Branyan. He'd have to draw a lot of walks to keep his on base percentage acceptable because he'd be doing really well to hit .250. I think some of the projections bouncing around stathead circles are more than a little generous. However, he deserves a shot. He deserves a season in the show. The first team to do so might just find themselves with a decent #4 hitter. Then again, they might end up with Jack Cust. We'll never know until he gets that shot.

ETA: 2005
4 Stars

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Landon Powell/Kurt Suzuki Report

Landon Powell, C, Oakland Athletics
Drafted 24th Overall, 2004 Draft, South Carolina
Bats B/Throws R
23 YO, 6'3", 235 lbs

Kurt Suzuki, C, Oakland Athletics
Drafted 67th Overall (2nd Rd), 2004 Draft, Cal State Fullerton
Bats R/Throws R
21 YO, 6'1", 200 lbs

You've no doubt heard about these two catchers. They're premium draft picks, and A's prospects straight out of central casting. Powell has been on the draft radar for a half decade now, pioneering the draft loophole that Jeremy Bonderman later successfully used to become a draft eligible high school junior. He went to South Carolina, and scared teams off with his bonus demands and poor conditioning despite putting up good offensive numbers. He only became a first round draft pick through a lot of hard work getting himself in shape and by making very reasonable salary demands, receiving a 1 million dollar bonus. After ballooning to 260 pounds in college, he's still a very big guy for a catcher, and while a 6'3", 235 pound catcher can be an imposing figure for baserunners sprinting towards home plate, that mass takes a toll on the knees and back.

Defensively, he's well above average and should be especially adept at nailing runners. Offensively, he's the kind that's likely to be on the fasttrack through the minors with power and patience.

2004 Vancouver: .250/.374/.383, 6 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 25 BB, 20 K, 128 AB

He also hit .328/.423/.612 with 19 home runs and a 45/41 BB/K ratio as a college senior. I've tried for a few days to come up with a good comp, John Buck comes to mind as he's a good defensive catcher with big power. Ramon Castro works as an offensive comp, but his defense isn't particularly impressive.

Suzuki is another polished college catcher with a good bat and some defensive chops. His skill set is different though. He has nice plate discipline like Powell, but he's more of a line drive spray hitter while Powell is your traditional three true outcomes slugger. He's different behind the plate as well, with most of his defensive value coming from good footwork, and agility.

2004 Vancouver: .294/.388/.441, 10 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 17 BB, 25 K, 11 HBP, 170 AB

His college numbers were even better than Powell's. .413/.511/.702 with 17 doubles, 16 homers, 49 walks, and 25 strikeouts in 252 at bats is impressive, but it is mitigated by CSF's home park, which is a great place to hit a baseball. I don't like to really use short season numbers, which is why I don't review many players with less than half a year of experience in A ball. I'm especially wary of college stats. You just can't rely on them. Still, I like these two players a lot and wanted to review them. I'm not the only one that likes them. The 2004 A's draft has received praise from statheads and scouts alike, and these two are a big part of that. With Huston Street, Richie Robnett, Dan Putnam, and Jason Windsor, they form a nice group of prospects.

Of these two, I think Suzuki is the slightly better prospect on the basis of his being 2 years younger. Suzuki will likely start the year in the Midwest League while Powell spends his time in the California League. Both will move quickly as long as they perform.

Powell
ETA: Late 2007
3 Stars

Suzuki
ETA: Early 2008
3 Stars

Update: A few hours after I posted this article, I heard the news that Landon Powell had torn his ACL and is out for all of 2005. This of course pushes his schedule back a year and casts a long shadow over his career.

Dane Sardinha Report

Dane Sardinha, C, Cincinnati Reds
Drafted 46th Overall (2nd Rd), 2000 Draft, Pepperdine
Bats R/Throws R
25 YO, 5'11", 215 lbs

Should come with a glass case that says "break in case of emergency." He's the very definition of a AAA catcher who functions as an emergency backup. He doesn't hit or field well enough to warrant even a permanent backup role on a Major League team.

2004 Louisville: .262/.294/.404, 17 2B, 9 HR, 10 BB, 94 K, 324 AB
mL Career: .237/.270/.350, 76 2B, 25 HR, 58 BB, 366 K, 1386 AB

He's barely a prospect since he's probably as advanced as he'll ever be. He might tighten his command of the strike zone and/or find a little more power, but he has a long way to go to ever be above replacement level. Someday he might grow up to be Danny Ardoin.

Fantasy league owners should scrub his name from their memory. Casual fans will probably never hear his name unless they happen to stop by the right spring training facility sometime in the next 5 years. The only ones who really stand a chance of seeing him in regular action are those of us who live in a AAA market.

ETA: Mid/Late 2005
1 Star

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