Saturday, May 21, 2005

Kevin Kouzmanoff Report

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Cleveland Indians
Drafted 168th Overall (6th Rd), 2003 Draft, University of Nevada
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 6'1", 200 lbs

Kouzmanoff was a third round steal in 2003. He's been terrorizing pitchers in the lower minors ever since being drafted. He's old for his competition, but the numbers can't be ignored.

2004 Lake County: .330/.394/.529, 35 2B, 5 3B, 16 HR, 44 BB, 75 K, 473 AB
pre-2005 mL Career: .309/.374/.498, 44 2B, 7 3B, 25 HR, 67 BB, 116 K, 703 AB

He's at it again, lighting up the Carolina League to the tune of .359/.411/.648 in his first 142 at bats. The only potential warning sign in the numbers is that his strikeout rate is up a tick this season. Overall though, he's always made good contact. He has more of a line drive bat than a real Mike Restovich kind of slugger's power. On the other hand, if doubles grow into home runs, then he might be in business. That goes to projection though, and it's something I'm uncertain about. Traditionally, late bloomers like Kouzmanoff have low ceilings, and while he doesn't look like a future MVP candidate, if he can turn some of those doubles into home runs, it could mean the difference between becoming Joe Randa with a shorter career and being something a bit more.

Kouzmanoff is reasonably athletic. He's an average defensive third baseman. He's also not a base stealing threat while not being a liability there either.

Kouzmanoff has to move quickly in order to have a real chance at a career, and he's in a good organization for that. He should make it up to AA by midseason, and at that point, Jake Gattreau is the next roadblock in his way. The Indians have suffered from injuries (Matt Whitney) and disappointment (Corey Smith) from their third base prospects in recent years. That's left them with the shell of Aaron Boone starting for them at the hot corner this season and Casey Blake being the alternative. The team moved Blake to the outfield though, after enduring some bad defense from him in 2004. So Kouzmanoff has open field ahead of him. If he can hold onto the hot bat he's carrying, his ceiling looks like Eric Hinske in one of his good years.

ETA: Late 2006/Early 2007
3 1/2 Stars

Friday, May 20, 2005

Chuck Tiffany Report

Chuck Tiffany, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Drafted 61st Overall (2nd Rd), 2003 Draft, HS, Covina, CA
Bats L/Throws L
20 YO, 6'1", 200 lbs.

The Dodgers have probably done more to improve their farm system over the last few years than anybody, collecting a fleet of live arms and promising bats. Among the brigade of pitchers, Chuck Tiffany is my favorite. He has only average velocity on his fastball, but it has a lot of movement, and he compliments it with one of the nastier curveballs you're likely to see and a change that is already pretty good and could become another WMD. He has some issues with command both in the zone and in keeping it in the zone, but that's partly a function of his age and partly due to the fact that everything he throws has a wiggle in it. We've seen this problem with pitchers like Barry Zito and we've seen it at it's most extreme with Mike MacDougal. If he can harness that command, he could be a big star. He needs to work on keeping his delivery consistent and try to improve that command. It's really the most important thing he has in front of him.

2004 Columbus: 3.70 ERA, 141 K, 40 BB, 76 H, 11 HR, 100 IP
mL Career: 3.59 ERA, 183 K, 57 BB, 105 H, 13 HR, 133 IP

That career line includes the 2.59 ERA he's posted this season in 31 Florida State League innings. He's still walking a few more guys than I'd like, but his strikeout and hit rates still speak volumes about how filthy his stuff really is.

He's currently on the DL with a minor back issue. It's not supposed to be a long-term problem and the Dodgers are being cautious. There are some worries that he could gain weight. To fight that, the Dodgers have had him on a fitness routine.

It also bears mention that he started off last season on a tear as well. He threw a no-hitter and a perfect game in consecutive starts.

Bottom line, he has the stuff to be a star, but he's still a couple years away. His command is what is going to mean the difference between being a good #4 starter and being a Cy Young candidate. Oh, and as I'm contractually obligated to say, he also has to stay away from scalpels.

ETA: 2007
4 Stars

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Draft Links

Every year the draft gets more and more attention. It also gets easier and easier to get good information, though it is still in the dark compared to the NFL and NBA drafts. So here are some links to good draft related articles.

Sickels takes a look at some college hitters.

Baseball America has a range of features, such as a blog dealing with the latest news, a regularly updated mock draft, and regular news and notes indexed on their draft front page.

Finally, Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts profiles the guys who will make the decisions (NL and AL).

Mike Morse Report

Mike Morse, SS, Seattle Mariners
Drafted 82nd Overall (3rd Rd), 2000 Draft, HS, Ft Lauderdale, FL
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 6'4", 220 lbs

There is possibly no bigger enigma in the realm of prospects than Morse. He's a big, young shortstop with a promising bat, but there are questions about whether he's really a shortstop, he has a long-lived reputation as a headcase and trouble-maker. Any time you get suspended by 2 different organizations in a season, there's certainly a legitimate concern. I also have some questions about exactly HOW good his bat really will be.

2004 Birmingham: .287/.336/.536, 9 2B, 5 3B, 11 HR, 15 BB, 46 K, 209 AB
2004 San Antonio: .274/.326/.465, 10 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 9 BB, 27 K, 157 AB
pre-2005 mL Career: .256/.313/.401, 92 2B, 16 3B, 35 HR, 106 BB, 323 K, 1576 AB

This doesn't look like an offensive track record that would hold up to a position switch very well, and unless the fast start at Birmingham portends a power spike, he might only go as far as to be an adequate offensive shortstop. He's following that trail this season, putting up a .265/.338/.419 line in his first 136 AAA at bats.

Regarding his defense, there are mixed messages out there. His range is questioned, but his hands and arm are good. He also has the size issue hanging over him. There aren't many guys that are first base-sized and can pull off being a middle infielder. The Mariners have every incentive to keep him at short for as long as possible since they have Adrian Beltre locked up to play third at Safeco until about 3 days after the sun swallows the earth. They also have a big hole at short since they foolishly traded away Carlos Guillen.

Monitor his progress, but be wary. He could wind up being anything from Jose Hernandez to Fernando Tatis to Wil Cordero.

ETA: ??
3 1/2 Stars

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Ervin Santana Report

Ervin Santana, P, Anaheim Angels
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent, 2000, Dominican Republic
Bats R/Throws R
22 YO, 6'2", 160 lbs

Santana got knocked around a little bit in his Major League debut last night. That's not completely unexpected. Quite a few players struggle in their first game. I didn't see the game itself, but on the SportsCenter highlights, every pitch they showed was a 94 MPH fastball. He also has a wicked slider and a changeup he's been working on for a couple years now.

A couple years ago, I was a huge Santana backer. After his 2002 performance in Rancho Cucamonga, where he struck out 130 with 36 walks in 125 innings, I was pretty excited. His 2003 season dampened my enthusiasm as he dealt with elbow problems through all that season and on into 2004.

2004 Arkansas: 3.30 ERA, 48 K, 18 BB, 41 H, 3 HR, 44 IP
pre-2005 mL Career: 3.60 ERA, 438 K, 161 BB, 354 H, 27 HR, 422 IP

The bottom line is health. If he can avoid the scalpel, he's a damned good pitching prospect, and could be used as either bait in a deadline deal to get the Halos more offensive help, or he could be a future replacement for Paul Byrd or some other Angels starter. I wouldn't rule out a move to the pen at some point either. He won't stick around this season, but barring injury, he has a future. Monitor what the Angels do with their rotation in the offseason. He could be a reasonable rookie of the year candidate for 2006. He could also be nursing a nice scar on his arm.

ETA: Late 2005/Early 2006
4 Stars

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Oscar Robles Report

Bumped because of new information

Oscar Robles, 2B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Drafted 80th Overall (3rd Rd), 1994 Draft, HS, San Diego, CA
Bats L/Throws R
29 YO, 5'11", 155 lbs

Robles was purchased recently from Diablos Rojos del Mexico, or if you prefer, the Mexico City Red Devils of the Mexican Summer League. The fee is rumored to be well into 6 figures. Since he's spent most of his career in the Mexican and independent leagues, data on him is hard to find at this point, especially if you don't speak spanish, which I don't.

Here's what I can find so far. He was drafted by the Astros out of high school. The next reference I can find is that he was in spring training with San Diego in 2003 before being sent back to Mexico. He hit .382/.473/.552 in 335 at bats. He hit 23 doubles, 5 triples, and 8 home runs. The stat line that I have is partial, so at best, I can estimate that he drew approximately 60 walks in that sample. That's not bad at all. Anytime you can hit for that high an average, rap some extra base hits, and draw walks in approximately 15 percent of your plate appearances, you're doing pretty well. He also played some very good defense at both second and third. This offseason, the Dodgers brought him into spring training, but ended up sending him back.

In light of LA's woes at the hot corner, they were desperate to bring in more bodies that can cover the position. They may even think they have a sleeper. I don't know.

It is hard to put his Mexican League numbers in context. On one hand, the Mexican Summer League is a high level league, and if you can hit there, you can just flat hit. On the other hand, Mexico City has an elevation of 7400 feet above sea level, so park effects are almost certainly messing with his numbers. Given this information, the Dodgers don't have a star. They probably have a capable utility infielder who can play some defense and be a reasonable contact hitter. He won't likely hit for much power, though he might draw some walks. Don't pick him up for your fantasy team, but keep an eye on their box scores.

ETA: Now
2 Stars, though with incomplete information muddying the picture.

Update: Baseball Prospects casts more light on his backstory in today's Prospectus Triple Play.

As a backup to Edwards the Dodgers can use Olmedo Saenz--not really convincing as a third baseman but passable in an emergency--and Oscar Robles. Robles is an interesting example of the advantages of scouting international teams in places like the Mexican League. A Tijuana native who prepped in San Diego, Robles was drafted as a shortstop by Houston in 1994 and made it all the way to Triple-A for three games in 1997. He was intractably stuck in the depth chart behind Carlos Guillen and Julio Lugo, and when a badly dislocated ankle caused him to miss all of 1999 he was released by the Astros. Robles hooked up with the Mexican League in 2000, where he posted a cumulative line of .334/.429/.380 in his five years there. He joined the Dodgers in spring training this year and hit a robust .438/.514/.563 in 32 at-bats. Again, as with Edwards, the lack of power is concerning and could be exposed by the tougher pitchers in the major leagues, but for a backup shortstop/third baseman, a reasonable batting average with some plate discipline should be useful.

Alex Graman Report

Alex Graman, LHP, New York Yankees
Drafted 111th Overall (3rd Rd), 1999 Draft, Indiana State
Bats L/Throws L
27 YO, 6'4", 210 lbs

Despite his being outrighted to Columbus in spring training, I think Graman's still a prospect and could still be an asset to the Yanks. He uses a 4 pitch Major League quality arsenal, featuring a low 90's fastball. His out pitch is a splitter, and he compliments it with pretty good change and slider. He has enough control to keep from killing himself with the walk, but he doesn't have the command it takes to really use his stuff and make it work like he wants it to. As a result, he's quickly becoming a AAAA guy.

He had a bit of an unexpected breakout in 2004. He posted his best numbers in quite a while. This season he's doing fairly well, but not outstanding. He has a pedestrian 4.02 ERA, but good peripherals (37 K, 14 BB, 40 IP). He could very well be an effective pitcher in the bigs, but the ceiling is really low. Middle reliever/5th starter is what you're looking at here.

2004 Columbus: 3.37 ERA, 129 K, 53 K, 135 H, 12 HR, 131 IP
pre-2005 mL Career: 3.81 ERA, 705 K, 305 BB, 811 H, 39 HR, 843 IP

You've heard me talk about how the Yankees have no trust in or taste for players who aren't already established in the majors or don't hit the ground running. It takes a really special circumstance to warrant patience in the Bronx. Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang both look like they might stick around, but it took the Yanks worst month in a decade or more and some major injuries and ineffectiveness by veteran players to even warrant a chance to begin with. Graman blew his chance by getting bombed in his 5 ML innings last season. If he gets a chance to be in the show, it will probably be in a different uniform. But you knew that already.

I'd like to use this as an opportunity to get off on a rant. Graman seems to me like he would be a good candidate to fill the old swingman role that most teams have eliminated from the roster. You really don't see many long relievers anymore. They've been replaced by specialists and fifth starters. Some of them have become fifth starters. Some are wasting value being a one inning bullpen guy. I love the one inning killer as much as anybody. If you're up by one in the 8th and your starter is getting fatigued, nothing is better than having a Joe Nathan or Francisco Rodriguez, who will get you to the end of the game without allowing so much as a baserunner. And I like LOOGY's and ROOGY's and sidearmers and submariners, but what happens in the 2 dozen times a year when your starter has to leave before the 6th inning? You have 7 man bullpens, but only one of them can go more than a couple innings. If your starter leaves in the 2nd inning after being hit in the foot with a comebacker, the pen is going to be spent for 2 or 3 days at least.

Guys like Graman, Mike Wood, and Justin Duchscherer are handy to have around for just this reason. Most of the time, teams don't really need a 5th starter and you have guys going every 6th day. If you have 2 of these guys around, you can cover the days where you need another starter, and you can give yourself a decent mop-up man, or long reliever, or emergency starter. They can be the swiss army knives of a pitching staff, but everybody seems to want to carry around a trunk full of tools instead. So here's what I say, take the Horatio Ramirezes of the world and turn them into swingmen. Get 2 of them, 4 starters, 3 traditional power relievers (closer and 2 setup men), a LOOGY, and a ROOGY, and use the extra roster spot to carry around another bench bat, like Mike Ryan or Jon Knott. Not lugging around a 12th pitcher could yield a real tactical advantage for your offense late in games, and you wouldn't give up much of anything in the pitching staff. You still have your specialists and your one inning guys (though I'm also a proponent of giving closers and set up men 2 innings a lot more often that what they are usually given these days). You'd probably even benefit from the extra innings that your top 4 starters would pick up in the exchange.

ETA: Whenever somebody digs him up
2 1/2 Stars

Monday, May 16, 2005

Nate McLouth Report

Nate McLouth, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drafted 749th Overall (25th Rd), 2000 Draft, HS, Whitehall, MI
Bats L/Throws R
23 YO, 5'11", 185 lbs

Here's a really underrated prospect. This is what happens when you take a dirty uniform hustle guy and inject some skills in him. He's a little undersized, but he's got a decent bat, can play all three outfield positions pretty well, is a good baserunner, and generally just knows what the hell he's doing out there.

2004 Altoona: .322/.384/.462, 40 2B, 8 HR, 48 BB, 62 K, 31 SB, 7 CS, 509 AB
pre-2005 mL Career: .291/.368/.433, 107 2B, 35 HR, 187 BB, 232 K, 112 SB, 1699 AB

That's a very well-rounded package of skills. He isn't a knockout in any one area, but he does a little bit of everything. Average, gap power, walks, steals, and he even steals bases at a high percentage. Would I like to see more home runs? Of course, but it wouldn't keep him from being a good player.

This year, he's playing here in Indy and I've already mentioned him already in my game reports. Here's what I said about him.

Nate McLouth batted second for the Indians both nights. I need to do a full report on him since he looks tailor made for a 4th outfielder role. He's a lefty swinging guy with a nice all around game that isn't going to blow you away. He makes contact, draws enough walks, steals some bases, and plays a pretty good outfield. He played left tonight, but he can play some center and has enough arm to pass for a right fielder if needed. With Rich Thompson and Ray Sadler, they should have an outfield with a lot of range this year.

All of that looks pretty good. My opinion hasn't changed. He still looks like he may be a great 4th outfielder. Looking at how hard up the Pirates are for a center fielder, I think he may be a decent answer for that problem. He's a lot better than Tike Redman offensively. His upside would look a lot like what Brady Clark is doing this year. That's his ceiling though. He could just end up being Ricky Ledee.

ETA: Mid/Late 2005
3 1/2 Stars

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sunday Morning Notes and Links

First off, congrats to friend of TYBITF, Kevin Agee, who has maintained Kevin's Royal Blog for quite some time now. He's been picked up by All-Baseball.com for their new Royals blog Kauffman Confidential.

Secondly, I like the fact that ESPN is carrying some regular season college baseball games. I've caught some intermittent action in a couple of games, but I haven't watched an entire game for a variety of reasons. BTW...I hope Dish Network picks up ESPNU soon.

Third, as a Royals fan I feel I have to comment on this. Now I have no idea whether the Royals really are thinking of cutting financial corners on the second overall pick and bypassing Justin Upton/Alex Gordon in favor of a budget pick, but if they are, I'd caution them not to. The draft is the best way to get top notch talent if you're a small market team, and you're really shooting yourself in the foot if you ignore talent to go with the cheaper alternative or to draft to positional need. Allard Baird is smart enough to know this, and I can't imagine that this would make him very happy. If they do this, then they make it very clear that the health of the franchise is a secondary concern and turning a short term profit is the important thing.

Inspired by John Sickels, I do a yearly version of the draft where I mirror KC's picks, taking the players I would have taken. I started out just doing 1 or 2 rounds. At this point, I usually do a full 50 round effort. Some of my picks look really good right now, such as taking Michael Aubrey instead of Chris Lubanski, or taking Dustin Pedroia last year, or Casey Kotchman instead of Colt Griffin. But most of the time, I've at least understood the logic behind the pick and haven't criticized them too severely (Griffin is an exception as I blasted the pick early and often). I understood why they took Billy Butler instead of my choice, Josh Fields. I understood why they took JP Howell, Matt Campbell, and Billy Buckner. I can not forgive them if they pass on Gordon to take a guy that might someday turn into Khalil Greene when they might even be able to get that same player in the second round. It's bush league. And if it happens, then tune into this space because I'll be absolutely toxic.

And with that, I'm leaving for the day. I leave for the track in a couple hours to watch qualifications for our little local car race. Tune in tomorrow for the Nate McLouth report.

John-Ford Griffin Report

John-Ford Griffin, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Drafted 23rd Overall, 2001 Draft, Florida State
Bats L/Throws L
25 YO, 6'2", 215 lbs

Before the season I was ready to throw in the towel on Griffin. In fact, my patience is still growing thin. He's just been underachieving for so long. His batting average drug down his numbers last year behind a pretty high strikeout rate. He's never had the season he was supposed to have when he was drafted. However, he's off to a good start for Toronto, batting .300 with his usual above average walk rate, and some power. But the strikeouts are still pretty high, which makes me wonder whether he's getting a little hit-lucky. Then again, maybe last year he was a little unlucky.

2004 New Hampshire: .248/.330/.454, 28 2B, 22 HR, 56 BB, 128 K, 467 AB
pre-2005 mL Career: .274/.358/.446, 87 2B, 48 HR, 182 BB, 315 K, 1407 AB

He's pretty much a DH, and has been treated as such by Syracuse. He can play left, but he's not particularly good at it. He doesn't have speed on the basepaths, so what he's going to give you is limited to his bat.

I think he's better than he was last year, but not quite as good as he's been thus far this year. That makes him a platoon LF/DH. He might find his way onto a big league bench sometime in the next year or two, but I don't see him developing into a starter at this point.

ETA: Late 2005/Early 2006
3 Stars

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