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'Til You're Blue in the Face

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Updated: 2012-04-15T19:32:28.118-04:00


On Kahrl and Victor


Last week Christina Kahrl (who I'm a huge fan of) got a couple of questions about the Mets first baseman or lack thereof in a chat she did on BP. She indicated that she thinks the Mets should give Victor Diaz the job. I like Diaz. I was a proponent of him as Major Leaguer before the season and I still am. However, I think she's giving his bat more credit than it deserves. He's got a very good bat for a second baseman, but he'd be overmatched as an everyday corner infielder.

On the season he hit .257/.329/.468 in the Show. That would make him a pretty subpar first baseman. However, it would make him an excellent 4th outfielder/pinch hitter. The presence of Mike Cameron in right field (should he be able to recover fully from his facial surgery) means that the Mets are one of the few teams that don't need anybody who can cover center field on the bench. They can just slide Cameron over into Beltran's spot and insert their backup into right field. Diaz is pretty bad in the outfield and could not cut it as a center fielder, but he isn't going to embarrass himself on a corner.

Another thing to mention is the fact that the Mets are one of the teams that most need a 4th outfielder who can hit. Cliff Floyd played in 150 games in 2005, but his career record tells you that's not likely for the foreseeable future. He's injury prone and always have been. Now he's entering his mid 30's, when that kind of thing is likely to become worse. The Mets need a backup plan for him, and that means they need to keep Diaz free to be that backup plan.

So just as long as they don't overpay and do something stupid like taking on the majority of Jim Thome's contract, give an overpriced, long term contract to Lyle Overbay, or give away Lastings Milledge or Yusemiero Petit, they should go out and get a real first baseman. A player like Overbay would be a big upgrade on what they got from the position last year. Diaz is fine as an outfield reserve and primary pinch hitter, but he's overmatched as a regular first baseman.

John Danks Report


John Danks, LHP, Texas Rangers
Drafted 9th Overall, 2003 Draft, HS, Round Rock, TX
Bats L/Throws L
20 YO, 6'2", 190 lbs

What took me so long to get to Danks? You would have figured with the number of Rangers fans I tend to surround myself with (we Royals fans need someone around who can share our pain) that I would have profiled this high profile prospect a long time ago. Well, here it is.

Danks gets into the low 90's. He could even add a couple MPH onto that in the next couple of years. However his breaking stuff is probably what gives him his upside potential. He has a killer curveball and the makings of a quality changeup.

2005 Bakersfield: 2.50 ERA, 53 K, 16 BB, 50 H, 5 HR, 58 IP
2005 Frisco: 5.49 ERA, 85 K, 34 BB, 117 H, 12 HR, 98 IP
2005 Totals: 4.38 ERA, 138 K, 50 BB, 167 H, 17 HR, 156 IP
MiLB Career: 4.19 ERA, 285 K, 101 BB, 285 H, 26 HR, 286 IP

I don't know if it's just me, but whenever I think about Danks, I think about Barry Zito. He has that same kind of profile where his fastball is better than people will give him credit for. And he has alright command, but nothing to write home about. I don't have reports telling me so, but I imagine that sometimes he has trouble spotting his curveball in the strikezone. I expect that because it is pretty typical of this kind of arsenal. When you have quite a bit of movement on the curve, sometimes it goes out of the zone. He also has a reputation of trying to nibble on the corners, which is something that can be worked out with a good pitching coach, say like Orel Hershiser.

Danks struggled in his first exposure to AA, but that's not completely unexpected for somebody his age. He dominated batters his own age with his stuff and now he's running into more advanced guys that will force him to make adjustments and work on these weaknesses. One thing that does give me pause is the number of home runs he gave up, especially in Frisco. It has the potential to be a problem in Arlington, where fly balls have a tendency to fly over the fence more than just about anywhere outside of Denver and Mexico City. It's not a dealbreaker but it is something to watch.

Expect Danks to start back in Frisco next season and do well enough to move onto Oklahoma City or possibly to the Rangers rotation. But that's if things go really well. If things don't go so well, it pushes his time table back a year. His ceiling is as a solid #2/average #1 starter. His downside is like all pitchers, injury and the obscurity of former prospectdom.

ETA: Late 2006/Early 2007
4 Stars

Kendry Morales Report


Kendry Morales, 1B, Anaheim Angels
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent, 2004, Cuba
Bats B/Throws R
22 YO, 6'1", 220 lbs

Morales ended up having a pretty decent season split between the California League and the Texas League. It didn't live up to pie-in-the-sky hopes of him challenging Dallas McPherson for the starting third base job in Anaheim, but those were unrealistic expectations anyways.

2005 Rancho Cucamonga: .344/.400/.544, 3 2B, 5 HR, 6 BB, 11 K, 90 AB
2005 Arkansas: .306/.349/.530, 12 2B, 17 HR, 17 BB, 43 K, 281 AB
MiLB Career: .315/.362/.534, 15 2B, 22 HR, 23 BB, 54, K, 371 AB

Well, it looks like he can hit. You have to like the batting average and isolated power. The Arkansas numbers are especially impressive since the Texas League is no filled will nothing but bandboxes. To be honest, there really isn't a single one remaining now that El Paso's franchise has moved to Missouri. Arkansas isn't exactly Wilmington or PetCo Park, but it isn't the worst place in the world to pitch either. So the power is for real. And there are no real red flags telling me that the batting average is a fluke either. The only real thing that I have to complain about is the walk rate, which is clearly subpar. That's just something to start working on though. I think that he should continue to hit and if he improves his selectivity at the plate, he has the chance to be a very nice major leaguer. Watch out for an offensive breakout if he starts the year in Salt Lake City next year because unlike Arkansas, that is a bandbox, aided by a pretty high elevation.

There are other thing to talk about as well. I'm on the record as not trusting Cuban birthdates, so I'm skeptical of the promise that his age brings. He'd still be a pretty good prospect and a probable major leaguer if he is really 25 years old instead of 22. But it would greatly diminish his ceiling. The other things that needs to be discussed are defense and baserunning. Both are question marks. The Angels are sticking to the party line stating that they think his defense is perfectly fine and that he only needs more work. I'm skeptical due to reports that his range is awful and his footspeed is nonexistent. It certainly looks like the hopes that he'd be a third baseman was just a case of wishcasting. He won't steal bases. If they move him to the outfield, he will be restricted to a corner spot and probably won't have very much range there either.

Morales's bat will definitely carry him. If he can make adjustments in AAA and the Show, he'll be successful. If he doesn't adapt at the plate, he'll end up being a really overpriced AAAA slugger pounding fastballs out of places like Nashville, Rochester, and Nagoya.

ETA: Late 2006/Early 2007
4 Stars

2000 Cal League Prospects


I was looking at BA's Cal League Top Prospect List and I spotted their "5 Years Ago" window.

1. Antonio Perez, ss, Lancaster (Mariners)
2. Ryan Ludwick, of, Modesto (Athletics)
3. Jerome Williams, rhp, San Jose (Giants)
4. Mike Bynum, lhp, Rancho Cucamonga (Padres)
5. Brad Cresse, c, High Desert (Diamondbacks)
6. Willie Bloomquist, 2b, Lancaster (Mariners)
7. Nick Neugebauer, rhp, Mudville (Brewers)
8. Tony Torcato, 3b, San Jose (Giants)
9. Jeremy Owens, of, Rancho Cucamonga (Padres)
10 Elpidio Guzman, of, Lake Elsinore (Angels)

Wow. That's a pretty awful group, isn't it.

Perez is salvageable I guess as a borderline 2B or a bench bat. Ludwick is somewhere between a AAAA slugger or a platoon bench guy in the majors. Injuries have killed him too. Williams is the keeper of the group, which is a scary scenario. He has his moments, but he's had some injury issues and he fell off the map for a while. Bynum and Cresse look like washouts. Bloomquist is now infamous as a guy who is on a major league roster for no good reason at all. I guess he has some use as a glove that you can use anywhere other than catcher, but if he can't hit then that limits his usefulness. Neugebauer never did find his control and then he blew out his shoulder. Torcato has turned into a poor man's Lance Niekro, which is damning with faint praise. Owens is a 4th Pawtucket. And Guzman put up a .281 OBP last season in Tacoma.

So you have 1 ML level starter, 6 complete washouts, 2 guys who may end up being good bench bats, and a guy who has more service time than any of the rest (maybe more than all of them put together to be honest) and didn't deserve any of it.

Now I mention this to serve 2 purposes. The first is to remind everybody that this isn't an exact science. I feel great when one of the players I tout comes in and produces just like I expect he will. However, the other side of that coin comes up more than we ever want to let ourselves admit. Always be cautious. Major League teams need to hedge their bets and if you're in a keeper league or sim league, you should too.

The second reason is to illustrate a point that I've made before. Extreme environments lead to misleading results. I'm not fond of the Cal League because of the hitting environment that dominates the circuit. It muddies the stats and makes random marginal players look like studs. For a while there it seemed like every season there would be another Mariner shortstop who benefits from Cal League goofyball hijinks and becomes a big name before moving on to the high minors and getting the bat knocked out of his hands. Now 2000 was probably a worse year than usual. And the biases that are inherent in BA's approach to rating prospects, such as a willingness to overlook Neugebauer's severe control problems probably compounds the situation and makes this list look worse than it really should have been. But you still have the underlying problem of trying to figure out how much of what should be chalked up to context and what is real progress.

Rick Ankiel Report


Rick Ankiel, OF/LHP?, St Louis Cardinals
Drafted 72nd Overall (2nd Rd), 1997 Draft, HS, Port St Lucie, FL
Bats L/Throws L
26 YO, 6'1", 215 lbs

I trust that anybody who is reading this blog knows the Rick Ankiel story. Brilliant young left pitcher whose command (which was never his strong suit to begin with) completely deserts him on national TV, he struggles in the minors for a while, has Tommy John surgery, attempts to come back, shows signs of life but the same old problem keeps coming back time and time again. He wants a fresh start and becomes an outfielder. And here we are.

2005 Quad Cities: .270/.368/.514, 10 2B, 1 3B, 11 HR, 27 BB, 37 K, 185 AB
2005 Springfield: .243/.295/.515, 7 2B, 10 HR, 10 BB, 29 K, 136 AB
2005 Total: .259/.339/.514, 17 2B, 1 3B, 21 HR, 37 BB, 66 K, 321 AB
MiLB Career: .262/.337/.532, 18 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 49 BB, 94 K, 455 AB

That's an interesting line with essentially a full minor league season of data. It's pretty obvious that he'll turn on a cripple pitch. He's also flashed some hints of plate discipline. On the other hand his plate discipline waned in the Texas League and drug down his batting average along with it. He was way too old for the Midwest League so he should have been putting up numbers with Quad Cities. On the plus side, in the interviews I've read, he seems to have a solid understanding of hitting, emphasizing swinging at good pitches and laying off junk outside the zone.

Ankiel is a unique case in all respects. As a pitcher he's unique in that he's all given us hope a dozen times and then crushed that hope with a repeat of his problems. He has talent but monumental flaws. As a hitter, he has decent numbers, but you have to balance his age with his inexperience. I honestly don't think he has the talent to make it back to the majors as a pure outfielder. His bat looks decent, but not good enough to get him over the hump. If he's going to make it back to the show, it will be either as a pitcher or as a better Brooks Kieschnick, filling in as a reliever here and there while doubling as a pinch hitter du jour. Then again, he could surprise us by adapting well and ending up as a starting right fielder for a few years with the Cards. Ya never know.

Other things of note that you might be interested in would be his defense and baserunning, both of which are works in progress. He didn't attempt a steal all season. In fact, I don't have any record of him ever attempting a steal as a professional baseball player. His defense will probably limit him to an outfield corner. He has some athleticism, but not THAT much.

ETA: ?
2 Stars

Week One football Rant/Miscellaneous Other Rants


With all due respect to Will Carroll, this report is powered by a brand new Dell.

-So we're in the 2005 season and we've now had plenty of time to deconstruct 2004 and the Patriots dynasty, yet somehow there's still this perception out there that football is being dominated by a latter day interpretation of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots are still seen as this gritty, gutty team that doesn't have much talent but gets by with some tough defense and an offense that refuses to give the ball away. It is true that their defense is remarkably effective. However, this is a very effective offensive team. I mean look at the numbers. They were the 4th highest scoring team in football. They've packed their offense with a very good line, a capable back, some talented young receivers, and Tom Brady, who is the lightning rod for the franchise.

Tom Brady has been defied by the press and the general public, yet because of WHY they have defied him, they UNDERRATE him. The story is the same for the team as a whole. Brady has improved his arm strength and accuracy, opening up the field. He's not a better version of Trent Dilfer back in those glory days for the Ravens. He's a playmaker. Sure he's great at reading defenses and dumping it to the right guy, but he's more than that now.

My own pet theory is that this whole effect is a byproduct of the Cult of Clutch that we have in this country. In sports it seems to be clutch than it is to be great. Derek Jeter and Tom Brady are Gods walking among us because they produce when it counts and are the face of successful organizations. Joe Montana is known for being great in the playoffs, nevermind the fact that he was great whenever he happened to be playing. I don't understand the urge to gloss over everyday excellence in favor of sepia-toned postcards from high profile games. Actually, I do get it but I've never felt that urge to boil excellence to individual moments. If somebody's great, they're great on a regular occasion. But no, there's more of a love for the overachiever than there is the guy who was simply good enough and talented enough to kick your ass everyday of the week. Me? I'll take the '27 Yankees instead of the 2002 Angels.

-Next on my list is F1, where after buying the Jaguar team last year and rebadging it Red Bull Racing, they're buying Minardi and plan on keeping both teams. How is this possibly within the rules? Are they going to merge the two teams and form a 4 car team like they have in NASCAR and IRL? Or are they going to keep the two organizations separate? And if they are, are they going to fund actual improvement in the team formerly known as Minardi? I don't have answers to these questions, but I would like to get my hands on them. I can see definite advantages to RB owning Minardi if they improve the team. They could easily make things much more interesting back towards the back of the pack. It would also give American Scott Speed a race seat to fill and along with the new management at Midlands F1, it would put a temporary end to F1 seats being bought by drivers whose sponsorship is the driving force behind their career advancement. On the other hand, if they let the team just linger at the back, it just kicks the can down the road and nobody is better off.

J.J. Furmaniak Report


J.J. Furmaniak, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drafted 649th Overall (22nd Rd), 2000 Draft, Lewis University
Bats R/Throws R
26 YO, 6'3", 190 lbs

I'm writing the J.J. Furmaniak prospect report because in the words of Bill Simmons, it needs to happen. It has to happen. He's not all that as a prospect, but he has some upside as a utility infielder. He's as good a bet as anybody in baseball to be a fan favorite. He's a scrappy, dirty uniform white guy who has some pop in his bat, a pretty decent glove in the field, and a catchy name. I watched him a few times this season and I had no clue who he was or where he came from at first. I'll admit it. I'm not ashamed. I had no idea that the guy existed and I thought that the name had to have been a joke. It wasn't a joke.

Here's another reason why I need to write this report. He's a fellow GLVC alum. He's from Lewis University while I'm a graduate of THE University of Indianapolis. Also of note, he was the minor leaguer that the Pirates got in return for sending David Ross to San Diego.

2005 Portland: .266/.324/.437, 16 2B, 4 3B, 14 HR, 28 BB, 86 K, 9 SB, 5 CS, 387 AB
2005 Indianapolis: .288/.315/.410, 5 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 4 BB, 32 K, 5 SB, 3 CS, 139 AB
2005 Total: .272/.321/.430, 21 2B, 7 3B, 16 HR, 32 BB, 116 K, 14 SB, 8 CS, 526 AB
2004 Portland: .294/.348/.489, 24 2B, 4 3B, 17 HR, 33 BB, 86 K, 8 SB, 5 CS, 425 AB
MiLB Career: .275/.345/.430, 133 2B, 31 3B, 63 HR, 241 BB, 564 K, 65 SB, 2476 AB

There's a lot of data up there. It tells you a couple of things. First, he's a pretty decent hitter for a minor league shortstop, but not somebody who is going to develop into a first rate major leaguer because of the age and middle of the road plate discipline. Any shortstop who can consistently post AAA slugging percentages in the mid .400's can at least give you replacement level work at the ML level. One thing to watch is the contact rate. He struck out a lot this season, which can't help his batting average at the next level.

Defensively, he's average at shortstop, showing steady hands and more range than you'd expect out of a guy this tall. He did make a couple of nice plays when I saw him in Indy. He made a nice game-ending leaping grab on a smoked line drive that showed good reactions. I'd be interested to see if they can turn him into a true utility player by teaching him to play the outfield. If they can do that, they have a poor man's Rob Mackowiak on their hands, only with the ability to play a credible short. Maybe that's more like a really rich man's Willie Bloomquist. At any rate, he's already a better player than Bloomquist. And Mackowiak is probably his ceiling on offense.

ETA: Whenever the Pirates Get Around to Calling Him Up
2 1/2 Stars

Current Events


A couple of interesting things have happened in the last few days and I'd like to talk about them.The first thing is the Pirates firing of Lloyd McClendon as manager. Actually, that's not the thing I find interesting. McClendon is a decent manager. He never struck me as either incompetent or gifted. He just fades into the background of managers who can do an adequate job, but aren't going to make a big difference. In fact almost every manager meets that description to me other than the ones who are needlessly destructive by means of running pitchers into the ground or by habitually overmanaging. The thing I'll miss about McClendon is the knowledge that once or twice a season he'll completely go off the deep end and make an ass of himself during an argument with an umpire. I'm not above saving these kinds of incidents on my PVR and rewatching them when I need a laugh. Right now I have the Frank Robinson staring contest saved.What I find interesting is a brief discussion yesterday on ESPNews between Michael Kim and I believe it was Brian Kenny. The discussion centered around the fact that the Pirates don't suck because of McClendon, but instead because of the fact that they don't retain the young talent they produce. I concede that the sorry state of affairs in Pittsburgh isn't McClendon's fault. But it isn't because of free agent defections either. Over the last decade, they've kept most of the good players they've found or produced. Jason Kendall and Brian Giles immediately come to mind. The problem is twofold.1. They've squandered the resources they have had by locking up both good players (Giles and Kendall) and bad players (Pat Meares and Kevin Young) for too long and for too much money.2. They haven't produced enough talent to begin with.Think about it for a second. What players have they really produced since Barry Bonds left? They found Brian Giles, getting him in a steal of a deal. Copy that with Kip Wells and Josh Fogg, both of whom are decent pitchers, but nothing that's going to blow your skirt up and are likely going to be pushed aside by the wave of pitching talent bubbling up through the system. Then you have Kendall, who is a pretty good player. The only guy I can come up with that they regrettably threw aside for monetary reasons was Aramis Ramirez. I guess you could count Jason Schmidt, but I tend to think that they just got unlucky with him as he was injury prone and mediocre in his time in Pittsburgh.Most of the blame for the last decade of futility falls on Cam Bonifay's inept shoulders. I know it is a running theme here to chant that it isn't money but brains that builds winning teams, but even teams on a shoestring budget can stumble into relevance once or twice a decade if they're run competently. If they're run by really good GM's and scouting departments, they can become fixtures in playoff races like the A's and Twins have. There is hope in Pittsburgh right now fed by the emergence of Jason Bay and Oliver Perez and the young talent on display in the form of Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, Brad Eldred, Ronny Paulino, and Ian Snell. They have to shepherd these players into the lineup and rotation, hope that their early promise is a sign of things to come, and then surround them with good talent, but that's an ongoing concern everywhere that you have a young group of talented players. The big choices come in the form of Craig Wilson and Oliver Perez, both of whom have value either in trade or in being talent to add to the young guys. It remarkable how much this organization resembles that of the Brewers, who are facing a similar set of circumstances.The next thing is on a similar theme of competence vs incompetence. Vince Namoli is leaving the Rays after the season, and it's possible (maybe even likely) that Lou Pinella and Chuck LaMar are going with him. This organization is showing a pulse despite contin[...]

Yuniesky Betancourt Report


Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, Seattle Mariners
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent, 2005, Cuba
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 5'10", 190 lbs

Betancourt was a high profile signing by the Mariners, who feel he can be an excellent player on offense and defense. The Mariners love his defense at short and see him as a Gold Glove waiting to happen. I have no evidence to refute their confidence in that part of his game.

2005 San Antonio: .273/.301/.410, 10 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 9 BB, 18 K, 12 SB, 7 CS, 227 AB
2005 Tacoma: .295/.323/.443, 9 2B, 6 3B, 2 HR, 6 BB, 14 K, 7 SB, 5 CS, 183 AB
ml Career: .283/.311/.424, 19 2B, 9 3B, 7 HR, 15 BB, 32 K, 19 SB, 12 CS, 410 AB
2005 Seattle: .239/.255/.326, 4 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 1 BB, 12 K, 0 SB, 1 CS, 92 AB

Some general observations here. First off, what do you call a player who is on San Antonio's roster? Is he a Mission? Missionary? I really have no idea.

Seattle's original plan was to leave him in San Antonio for the whole season, but his play there convinced them that he was ready for higher levels. I'm not so sure. It's nice that he held his own in AA right out of the box. And San Antonio isn't the best place to hit in the Texas League, but he wasn't exactly tearing it up. .273/.301/.410 looks more like Rey Sanchez than somebody who deserves to be rewarded with a promotion. The sample size is too small to draw a firm conclusion from, but that Major League line doesn't look like a complete fluke to me. He's completely overmatched at this point.

He's raw. He's really raw. He needs work on the plate discipline. He needs some work on hitting the ball with power, which is a skill his backers claim he should be able to develop. He needs to stop trying to steal bases until he's able to read pitchers and get good jumps. That percentage is unacceptable.

I'm still very skeptical of Cuban birthdays. What proof do I need? I need a videotape of his birth with the doctor holding that day's New York Times with R Kelly's grandmother doing play-by-play, followed by a montage of pictures of him growing up, one picture per month for every month from birth to the day he signed a contract with the M's.

The M's really should let him start in Tacoma next season because he really has no business being on a ML roster at this point. He is ticketed to play in the Arizona Fall League. Getting the reps will help, but I worry that the M's and their fans will develop irrational expectations for him due to the offense-friendly atmosphere.

When looking at the possibilities of what he could become, the upside is probably Omar Visquel. The downside is Neifi Perez with a batter glove. If you're looking for a midpoint, I'd probably point to the Izturis brothers. There's enough here to give some hope of good things happening, but enough warning signs to make it a risky proposition.

ETA: Ready or not, he's arrived
2 1/2 Stars

Commentary and Links


Starting out with Formula 1, this is interesting news. I'm not sure how good Scott Speed would be in F1 next year, but in general the idea is at least intriguing. Having an american driver in a Formula 1 cockpit would help next year's USGP attendance, but I'm afraid of getting him into the wrong team. I doubt there'd be much interest if he winds up in a Minardi or a Midlands seat since he'd have almost no chance of being relevant. I'd like to see him stay in GP2 and get into a heavy test schedule with Red Bull Racing. Get some time in F1 cars before jumping in. It would also give Red Bull a chance to sort out their driver situation and clear a spot for him.

One guy in GP2 that should be an F1 driver next year is Heikki Kovalainen. He'd be very good alongside Fernando Alonzo in the Renault camp.

On the broader note of the state of the GP2 series, Speed does make some good points. I like the series and the way they have a lot of things set up. The spec car series is a good thing for driver and team development. Having 2 races a weekend is also an interesting thing. Also, I love the idea of giving a championship point to the pole sitter and 2 points to the driver who records the fastest lap. I think that is something that should be incorporated into F1 (and IRL and Champ Car for that matter). I don't like the way they determine the grid for the sprint race though. It's just bizarre. The idea that somebody can pass another car to take 8th place late in the first race and end up on pole for the second race as a result seems arbitrary. One of two things need to happen. Either they need to just have the starting grid for the sprint race be the same as the finishing order of the long race or they need to incorporate a second qualifying session into the weekend.

Overall though, the GP2 series has produced some great races, some of the most exciting that I've seen this year. And I think there are a lot of drivers in there that have a future in Formula 1. Speed, Kovalainen, Nico Rosberg, and Adam Carroll all clearly have serious chops.

I'd like to mention that I really want to see the formula for how these rankings are calculated.

Off topic a bit, but actually related to this particular blog. As if we needed more proof of the fact that life imitates Office Space. Top of the cap to The Intern.

I just noticed that I haven't mentioned the proposed reorganization of the low minors. This would certainly be a big change for the draft. I'm officially neutral on the subject. I have no problem with it, though I would worry that MLB would be burning some bridges in the Appy League.

Indianapolis vs Durham Game Report


I went to a day game between the Indy Indians and the Durham Bulls. I was hoping to watch BJ Upton and Delmon Young. 1 out of 2 ain't bad. Unfortunately Upton spent most of the afternoon as Durham's first base coach. He was on deck as a pinch hitter when Mark Corey got Jeff Deardorf to end the game on a groundout.Young did play and he looked like everything he was supposed to be. It is obvious why scouts have been falling all over themselves in praising him. He's tall with a muscular, athletic build like you see in Vlad Guerrero and Jermaine Dye. He looks like if he wasn't a baseball player he could be a wide receiver or a small forward. His swing looks good too, though not picturesque in a Griffey circa 1998 kind of way. He had little or no problem handling Chris Enochs, who was having his best game of the year. He went 3 for 4, smashing two doubles down the left field line and poking a solid single into center. He also scored Durham's only run on an Earl Snyder double down the line. The kid can run and he can hit. He needs to draw more walks to be an MVP candidate, but even if he doesn't he has the talent to be a solid starting right fielder.In the field, I didn't get much of a look at Young. He only fielded a couple of balls and didn't make any serious throws. The scouting reports give him good marks and given his athleticism and reports of classic right field arm strength, the Dye comparison crops up again. He has the talent to be a top notch player. He just needs to make some adjustments.The Bulls also featured Eric Munson, Josh Phelps, and Fernando Cortez. Former Major Leaguers Munson and Phelps are looking more and more like AAAA guys, though some of the better ones you'll see.Munson has that take and rake approach down to a science. He's also capable of launching majestic blasts. But his swing is a little long and looping. I saw him a couple years ago with Toledo and he looks a little more polished, but he still has the same strengths and weaknesses. At this point I think what you see is what you get.I saw Phelps a couple years ago too when he was with Syracuse. He's more of a mystery. A couple years ago he looked like the best player on the field because he WAS the best player on the field by a good margin. He looked like he was going to walk into the Skydome and take the Major Leagues by the scruff of the neck and show it who was boss. Yesterday he looked like just another guy. He's lost out there. His plate discipline has eroded and he looks like he's just guessing. He's putting up pretty decent numbers, but it's obvious why he wasn't making the grade in Tampa.Cortez is a second base prospect that I haven't talked about yet. I should do that soon. I like him but he's not a sure thing. He's struggling with his batting average and his walk rate. He looks good at the plate though and he didn't swing at bad pitches and he got good wood on everything he swung at. He's good defensively and he's a good baserunner as his 23 for 27 success rate in stealing bases can attest. He might stall in AAA or he might go on to become a solid player in bigs. It's too early to tell, though he has some work to do. If he makes it, think of him as Robinson Cano with speed.The Bulls had Kevin Cash on the bench, which is a shame. I've always liked him as a kind of poor man's Jason LaRue. With a day game following a night game, his absence was not unexpected.The two prospects on the Indians roster were Ronny Paulino and Ray Sadler. I like what I see in Paulino. The kid can play. Like Cash, he was resting following a night game where he caught. He did play though, as the DH. The Pirates like his defense though, so I wasn't going to gripe about the missed opportunity. At the plate, he looks more muscular than most catchers, especially with the batting stance he uses. He [...]

Gabriel Martinez Report


Gabby Martinez, 1B, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Drafted 799th Overall (27th Rd), 2001 Draft, HS, Sabana Grande, P.R.
Bats L/Throws R
22 YO, 6'2", 180 lbs

Martinez entered 2005 as Baseball America's 19th ranked prospect in the Rays organization, but he hasn't adapted to AA very well. His bat hasn't translated well at all and he's put up numbers that would be unacceptable for a middle infield prospect, let alone a first baseman. If this continues, he isn't going to even make it to the International League, let alone The Show.

2005 Montgomery: .231/.305/.359, 12 2B, 6 HR, 23 BB, 65 K, 251 AB
2004 Bakersfield: .323/.371/.454, 39 2B, 4 HR, 30 BB, 90 K, 436 AB
mL Career: .296/.356/.431, 89 2B, 17 HR, 102 BB, 245 K, 1147 AB

What do we learn from the above numbers. First we learn that if you don't hit the ball over the fence in the Cal League, you aren't likely to pick up the skill in the Southern League. Secondly, we learn that AA is a lot harder than HiA or the New York-Penn and Appy Leagues, where he put up a combined .315/.373/.451 line in 896 AB.

Martinez is heavily reliant on his ability to hit singles and doubles and those were heavily aided last year by the best hitter's league in the minors. It has been hurt this year by arguably the worst hitter's league in the minors. He takes just enough walks to get by, but not enough to make him an OBP machine. He hits some balls into the gaps, but not enough to compensate for his inability to hit it over the fence. At his best he's a poor man's Kotchman/Aubrey/Casey. At his worst he's weak bat at the wrong end of the defensive spectrum. If he can pull out of this funk, he could POSSIBLY become a decent pinch hitter in the majors and a starter in AAA. I'd like to see if he could play the outfield corners and play some third base from time to time. His bat isn't cut out for a living as a first baseman, so any defensive flexibility he could bring to the party would improve his career chances. He's played some third in the past and his athleticism earns high marks for a first baseman, so it isn't out of the question.

ETA: 2007
1 1/2 Stars



How about a notes column? I have several things that may warrant their own posts, but I feel like knocking them out all in one fell swoop.-The sports world has been abuzz with the Terrell Owens controversy. My interest in the subject is limited. I'm conflicted about it for a couple of reasons. The first is that I really want him to play. I have him on my roster in a fantasy football league. He's a big gamble and my team will likely live or die with whether or not he plays. The other side of it is that I take pleasure in watching the NFL's chickens come home to roost. Say what you will about Scott Boras, but the guy is right. NFL contracts are a joke. A contract's integrity is tied to the ability of both parties to change or get out of the deal. It's incredibly easy for teams to get out the deal and it is commonplace for players to restructure their deals either for more money or to improve the team's salary cap flexibility. The team can drop the player at any point, so any notion of loyalty is implicitly a one way street. There are definite advantages to non-guaranteed contracts, especially for the owners. They get cost certainty in a sport where career-ending injuries are a fact of life. I'm surprised this kind of thing doesn't happen MORE often. Teams cut guys every year and shrug their shoulders passing it off as "just business."That being said, T.O. is acting like an insufferable prick and deserves every bit of negative press that is coming his way.-The other big controversy of the last few weeks is the Raffy Palmiero suspension. There's already been reams of articles written about this and I'll try to refrain from repeating anybody else's viewpoint.Here's my take on this. Raffy is incredibly stupid. He's monumentally stupid. This crap that he was taking has been around since the 60's. If he thought that he could get away with it, he deserves to be banned from the game just on the principle that he's too dumb to deserve money and fame. You're a goddamned millionaire for chrissakes. It's one thing for a 20 year old A-ball flunky living on $1000 a month to use the cheap stuff that shows up on every drug screening known to man. It's another thing entirely for a guy who makes that every day. According to just about every authority known to man, there are at least a dozen BALCO's out there (probably 2 to 3 times that) with a roster of undetectable (and more effective) steroids ready for consumption. All you have to do is pay more money and have some connections. Just go find a track star somewhere. He'll point you in the right direction. Unbelievable.-On a happier note, I was right, then I was wrong. This is one of the most amazing things to happen this year. The A's were beyond awful during the first couple months and I thought that even the most optimistic scenario ended with them getting back to .500 in the final month of the season and building towards relevance next year. Instead, they were over .500 within a month and are obviously very relevant this season. Barry Zito and Eric Chavez have straightened themselves out. The bullpen has recovered. The offense is smoking. And Dan Johnson has been great since being called up.What Billy Beane has done is very rare. He's remade his roster without falling into obscurity. This is something that many teams have failed to do. The only immediate example that comes to mind is John Schuerholtz and the Braves. In basketball, you have Donnie Walsh and the Indiana Pacers. This also means that those who doubt Beane is among the best GM's in the game should probably get out a bib because they'll be eating some crow. This is now undoubtedly Beane's team. There are very few holdovers from before he took over.-Last on the list of grievances is just a brief mention f[...]

Game Report: Indianapolis vs Toledo


Yesterday I went to the Indianapolis Indians/Toledo Mudhens game that featured a number of interesting players. I was with my wife, my brother, and his girlfriend. I didn't take notes, this is all personal recollection combined with the box score. Nevertheless, here's my commentary.Mike Connolly started the game for Indy and was the star of the show. He kept Toledo's lineup off balance by doing his best Jamie Moyer impression all day. He threw a lot of off speed stuff. I mean a lot. It looked like he had a changeup in the low 70's, a slurvy breaking ball in the high 70's, and a fastball that worked mostly in the mid 80's. His location was good all day on all three pitches and he looked like he was toying with the batters. His defense also helped. All 4 infielders looked good.Speaking of Connolly's defense, Yurendell DeCaster looked outstanding at first base. It's a rare day when a first baseman looks like the best defensive player on the field, but this was one of them. DeCaster has played third in the other times I've seen him, and he looked comfortable there, making all the routine plays. He didn't stand out though. I don't remember him charging any ground balls or making any diving stops followed by a rocket across the diamond to just nail a streaking runner. Today though, he made at least 3 plays that just stood out. One was a diving stop right over the first base bag to start a double play. That was a very hard hit ball and his reactions were pretty impressive. He also smoked a couple of singles through the infield. He's now in his mid 20's and he looks like he's settling in as a good AAA regular with maybe a callup here and there to provide an extra body on somebody's bench. His ceiling probably looks like his teammate Ty Wigginton, only with a little more power.The Indians also had Bobby Hill and Ty Wigginton in the lineup and they looked just as you'd expect to look. They looked like the AAAA guys they are. Wigginton is the better player of the two, but Hill is a little younger. Still, I have more faith that Wiggy is more likely to see a Major League clubhouse again. Hill looks like he's on the career trajectory that has him out of baseball within 5 years and he isn't that great defensively at either 2B or 3B. Wigginton by comparison is a worse defensive second baseman, but is pretty good at the hot corner. He can be of some use to a team that needs a bench bat and a guy who can be a defensive replacement for their 3B.Graham Koonse looked good at the plate. He smashed a pretty majestic home run over the center field wall. That's a hard thing to do at Victory Field.Nate McLouth didn't do much, but I still like him.This was the first time I saw Ronny Paulino and I liked what I saw. His swing looked quick. He didn't chase any bad pitches. And he smoked what seemed like every pitch he saw that was over the plate. I'll have to watch him again to get a feel for his defense behind the plate. He really didn't have any plays that challenged him. He looked comfortable back there, but I couldn't tell you how well he throws or how fast his reactions are.On the other side was Kenny Baugh. Baugh had more velocity, but he wasn't nearly as sharp. He wasn't wild, but he didn't have command over his pitches, missing up and over the heart of the plate. His breaking stuff just sat there waiting to get hit. I'd like to know whether this was a bad day or if he's tiring towards the end of the season.The entire Toledo team looked listless. They looked apathetic. First among that crowd was Carlos Pena, who looked more like he was waiting for a bus than trying to play baseball. At the plate he looked mediocre. In the field he looked awful, exhibiting little range, bad hands, and a complete [...]

Nate Schierholtz Report


Nate Schierholtz, OF, San Francisco Giants
Drafted 63rd Overall (2nd Rd), 2003 Draft, Chabot Junior College (CA)
Bats L/Throws R
21YO, 6'2", 215 lbs

Schierholtz is an interesting prospect for the numbers he's put up and the raw hitting talent that he has. His swing is tailored for launching frozen ropes to both outfield gaps. He's always hit for average and has more power than most 21 year olds. There are some problems though. He's awful at drawing walks, his strikeout rate has spiked, and he's sliding down the defensive spectrum with lightning speed. Drafted as a third baseman, he couldn't cut it there and has moved to the outfield.

2004 Hagerstown: .296/.353/.584, 22 2B, 15 HR, 18 BB, 52 K, 233 AB
2004 San Jose: .295/.338/.469, 18 2B, 9 3B, 3 HR, 15 BB, 41 K, 258 AB
2005 San Jose: .310/.351/.487, 23 2B, 4 3B, 8 HR, 18 BB, 87 K, 310 AB
mL Career: .306/.357/.502, 69 2B, 17 3B, 29 HR, 66 BB, 203 K, 970 AB

The guy has talent. He can hit a baseball, but I can't give him a glowing endorsement until he learns that you don't have to swing at sliders in the dirt. Hitters who strike out in 30% of their at bats don't often hit .300 and if he isn't batting .300, then his walk rate will pull his OBP into Womack country. There are only so many Alfonso Sorianos and as Jose Reyes has found out, it's hard trying to be a good young player when you swing at everything.

If you're looking for a sure thing on San Jose's roster, look for Eddy Martinez-Esteve. He'll hit no matter where he is. Schierholtz is another one those lottery ticket guys. A small percentage of these guys are either talented enough to overcome their weakness and be a star even while pitchers are exploiting their hacktastic ways, and a different small percentage take the Sammy Sosa path and actually learn that they can leave the bat on their shoulder when it's a ball and swing hard when it's a strike. Those two populations are dwarfed by the number of guys who are crippled by their flaw and end up being AAA washouts or Mark Quinn-style flashes in the pan.

Now here's a second rant in this one report. I've been down this road before, but there really is no good reason why the Giants should be punting picks every season. In the back half of the first round, you can get some really nice stuff and it's worth the investment. In 2004, the Giants decided that it wasn't worth a million dollars to take a chance on a late first round pick. They passed up Huston Street, Zach Jackson, Justin Orenduff, and JC Howell. The Giants have a checkered draft history over the last half decade, but even then they've come out with solid prospects at least 1/3 of the time and that's all you need to be an assett and worth every penny. Furthermore, they've been pretty good at taking second round players of late. In 3 years they produced Fred Lewis, Schierholtz, and EME. It looks like it may be a bit of a moot point this season though, as both the Mariners and the Giants, the only two teams to actively use the strategy are pretty likely to finish in the bottom half of the league and as a result have their first round pick protected.

ETA: 2007
3 1/2 Stars

Sergio Mitre Report


Sergio Mitre, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Drafted 198th Overall (7th Rd), 2001 Draft, San Diego City College
Bats R/Throws R
24 YO, 6'4", 210 lbs

Don't let the best two games of Mitre's career fool you. He's not going to be able to duplicate it long term. That doesn't mean he's without value. He's better than he's pitched SINCE those two games.

Mitre has a nice variety of pitches. He has only an average fastball, but it has some sink to it. He has a very nice slider and a curve and changeup that he can use as well. The slider is his best out pitch. He can also get some misses with the curve. The change is mostly a change of pace and is pretty average. The fastball creates tons of ground balls. He isn't going to blow it by anybody, but he'll induce a lot of hitters to beat the ball into the ground. As we've learned, that leaves him particularly reliant on the fielding ability of his infielders.

2004 Iowa: 2.98 ERA, 95 K, 39 BB, 97 H, 9 HR, 103 IP
2004 Chicago: 6.62 ERA, 37 K, 20 BB, 71 H, 6 HR, 52 IP
2005 Iowa: 4.60 ERA, 37 K, 14 BB, 49 H, 5 HR, 45 IP
2005 Chicago: 5.19 ERA, 19 K, 14 BB, 42 H, 4 HR, 43 IP
mL Career: 3.17 ERA, 427 K, 139 BB, 559 H, 27 HR, 553 IP
MLB Career: 6.14 ERA, 59 K, 38 BB, 128 H, 31 HR, 104 IP

Just staring at the numbers, I think he can be a pretty decent back of the rotation filler or a pretty nice swing starter at the Major League level, but he's not a staff ace in waiting. Middle relief is likely. If he impresses the right manager, he could find his way into a setup role. The best fit might be the swing role that I've talked about before.

3 1/2 Stars

Adam Harben Report


Adam Harben, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Drafted 452nd Overall (15th Rd), 2002 Draft, Westlake Community College
Bats R/Throws R
21 YO, 6'1", 205 lbs

Harben is a nice surprise for the Twins. They didn't expect much when they drafted him out of a JuCo. He's developed into a real prospect. His stuff has become pretty filthy, with a mid 90's fastball with a slider and change complimenting it. He's put up excellent strikeout rates everywhere he's gone. He doesn't allow many hits. And he's done a very nice job of keeping the ball in the park. However, as I've said with probably 75 pitchers before him, this guy needs to improve his command and control. He walks too many batters and if he plans on climbing the ladder, he needs to stop giving out free passes.

2005 Ft Myers: 2.97 ERA, 62 K, 34 BB, 48 H, 3 HR, 64 IP
2004 Quad Cities: 3.09 ERA, 171 K, 68 BB, 114 H, 5 HR, 143 IP
mL Career: 3.42 ERA, 337 K, 145 BB, 280 H, 13 HR, 318 IP

All reports indicate that he's a good athlete and his mechanics look good. He just needs to figure out how to put the ball in the zone. If he does that, then he stands a good chance of riding the express elevator to one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The Twins have a very good minor league system and guys like Harben are a big part of that. They have great depth and even if most of these guys flame out, they'll still have a handful of very nice young players. Harben is a lottery ticket. If he works out, the Twins have hit the jackpot and can boast another #1 starter and all it cost them was a 15th round pick and a nominal bonus. If he doesn't work out, you might not hear from him again.

ETA: 2008ish
3 1/2 Stars

Fernando Cabrera Report


Fernando Cabrera, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Drafted 317th Overall (10th Rd), 1999 Draft, HS, Bayamon, PR
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 6'4", 225 lbs

Cabrera's been absolutely lights-out for Buffalo this season. He's probably been just about as good as any reliever you'll find. He has an ERA under 1, a Brad Lidge-like K rate. He's not walking anybody. And he's even listed about 30 pounds heavier than he was last season. Let's put it this way, he's shaved off a quarter of a run on his ERA in 38 innings while going over the 400 career inning mark. How's that for effective?

Cabrera has a closer's stuff. He gets up into the mid 90's with his fastball, carries a great splitter (can we go back to calling it a forkball?), and a developing changeup and slider. I haven't been able to ascertain whether part of this improvement is due to refinement of one of his secondary pitches, improved velocity on the heater, or just better command and control over his fastball/forkball combo.

2005 Buffalo: 0.95 ERA, 53 K, 7 BB, 26 H, 2 HR, 38 IP
2004 Buffalo: 3.84 ERA, 92 K, 43 BB, 57 H, 9 HR, 75 IP
mL Career: 3.52 ERA, 435 K, 159 BB, 358 H, 31 HR, 412 IP

Some caveats apply. 38 innings isn't conclusive proof of anything. And he is repeating the level. On the other hand, this just looks like one of those situations where everything seems to come together, the control improves, the strikeouts jump, and all of a sudden the guy turns into a dominant closer. He's had good scouting reports for years, boasting velocity and a closer's approach. The biggest thing holding him back was the command.

Bob Wickman is likely to be traded this season and when he does, Cabrera will get a chance to first fill the role of setup man and possibly side over to closer if he does well there. He should be considered along with Ryan Wagner, Mike Gonzalez, Chad Orvella, and Jeff Farnsworth as closers in waiting. I actually like his chances of success a little more than that of Wagner and Gonzalez.

ETA: Mid-Season
4 Stars

USGP Weekend/F1 Primer


This weekend is the Us Grand Prix here in Indy, and F1 racing is my OTHER great love in sports. Today will be the first time in 4 years that I haven't attended the race. I went to the practice and qualifying sessions yesterday and the day before. So pardon the non-baseball interlude. Here's a brief baseball fan's guide to F1.F1 has a lot of parallels with MLB. Both are among the more capitalistic organizations in sports. There are definitely the haves and the have-nots. Here's an easy guide for what team is what.Ferrari=YankeesThey're the richest teams in their sport, and the glamour team. They've also been dominant over the last decade, but they're both struggling a bit this season. The each have the highest paid athlete in the sport (Michael Schumacher and A-Rod) and an iconic uniform (pinstripes and the NY and Ferrari red with the prancing horse logo). If you like to root for the evil empire, you'll probably love to root for the guys from Maranello. Still, nothing epitomizes the glamour and excess of F1 quite like this team. One place where the comp breaks down is in the decision-making process. Ferrari is organized, disciplined, stable, and extremely competent. There is no George Steinbrenner looming over everybody like the Sword of Damocles.McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-BMW=Giants and DodgersThey are the traditional powers of F1, and also bitter rivals. They are also mega-rich and driven to succeed with big fanbases. Here in Indy, you're likely to see a lot of McLaren gear since Indy is annually dominated by Columbians, who root for their favorite son, Juan Pablo Montoya.Also note their rival German engine suppliers. This has surely upped the stakes of their rivalry over the last few years, but it won't be this way for much longer. BMW and Williams have been bickering at each other and will surely go their separate ways at the end of the season. The hot rumor is that BMW will buy the Sauber-Petronas team and make the engines AND cars. No word yet on who Williams would recruit to build their engines.Renault=TwinsRenault has risen to prominence over the last few years on the strength of their smarts. They've developed a car that has incredible stability and efficiency. And while they're still likely to spend piles and piles of cash, the emphasis is never on their budget but rather their ideas and their ability to develop great designs.Toyota=AngelsToyota just showed up a few years ago and have spent more than anybody besides Ferrari over that period of time. It's starting to pay dividends too. They had been milling around at the back of the pack until this year, and now they're in the fight for poles and race wins. Jarno Trulli won the pole yesterday. Like Arte Moreno, they have deep pockets and a deep desire to win.BAR Honda=PhilliesThey show flashes here and there of being a really, really fast team, but it always seems to fall short. Even last year when they finished 2nd in the constructors championship, they seem to have been overshadowed by Renault and the ever-present Ferrari.One BAR note, I remember a race weekend several years ago where they were blowing engines like they had an unending supply. And it isn't just that they were trashing motors, it's the way in which they were blowing them up, in explosive, smoky glory. It was like they were fogging for insects. I think they ended up going through half a dozen engines in 3 days with 2 cars. Unbelievable. When you're at 19,000 RPM, you don't get a check engine light and a funny smell.Sauber-Petronas=Blue JaysThey're the best of the perennial backmarkers. They run Ferrari engines[...]

Martin Prado Report


Martin Prado, 2B, Atlanta Braves
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent, 2001, Venezuela
Bats R/Throws R
21 YO, 5'11", 188 lbs

Prado is a fairly typical middle infield prospect, maybe with a little higher offensive ceiling than most, but he doesn't look like a GREAT prospect. Her profiles as a #2 hitter at this point, with some speed and a contact-related approach. He hits for average and has added a little power.

2004 Rome: .315/.363/.422, 25 2B, 6 3B, 3 HR, 30 BB, 47 K, 14 SB, 10 CS, 429 AB
2005 Myrtle Beach: .302/.353/.409, 11 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 22 BB, 44 K, 9 SB, 6 CS, 242 AB
mL Career: .306/.366/.399, 60 2B, 20 3B, 7 HR, 118 BB, 170 K, 64 SB, 36 CS, 1300 AB

While his plate discipline isn't great, it's not awful, and to be honest, it's par for the course with young infielders in A-ball. The power has a long way to go. Last season he added some doubles, but it still got his isolated slugging percentage up over .100, not particularly impressive. He also needs to work on getting better jumps on steal attempts. That success rate isn't really acceptable as far as I'm concerned.

What gets the scouts all weak in the knees is Prado's defense, which rates as exceptional by most all observations. He has great range, a better than average arm, and doesn't make too many mistakes.

If everything works out his way, he could end up being a good source of OBP and speed at the top of the order while also making ground ball pitchers look good. If things don't work out, he'll look a lot like Pokey Reese.

ETA: 2008
3 Stars

J.P. Howell Report


J.P.Howell, LHP, Kansas City RoyalsDrafted 31st Overall, 2004 Draft, TexasBats L/Throws L22 YO, 6'0", 180 lbsI've been trying to write this report for a week and a half now. Part of the problem I've been having is that I tried to make it not just a prospect report, but also a status report on the Royals franchise. I almost had it completed, but I had some technical problems, some burnout, and the Royals got REALLY ambitious and promoted him to AAA Omaha and THEN to the majors, which I completely didn't see coming.Howell is a part of the hope that I carry around for my favorite team. He's a classic finesse lefty, but one with a lot of upside, courtesy of his sick breaking stuff. He doesn't have a ton of velocity. He maxes out just short of 90 MPH, and works a couple ticks below that on the gun most of the time, but he has uncanny control of both location and speed. And he varies between 2 and 4 seem grips. The two seam has a break inside the zone and the 4 seam has a sinking action. He also has really brutal breaking stuff with a curve that he can control for both location and break. Finally, he has a splitter that drops off the table.Howell elicits a lot of comparisons to Zach Greinke, and for good reason. He's the same kind of pitcher. He does a lot of the same kinds of things. It's reasonable to think that the scouting brass took a look at their most recent success story and tried to emulate it. Howell is one of 3 similar pitchers they took last year. Matt Campbell has lost his command and Bill Buckner is following right in Howell's footsteps. On the other hand, it isn't a completely fair comparison since Howell is actually older than Greinke already. Still, Howell is a breakout star in the minors who is rocketing up to the majors like he's wearing JATO's. Whether you do it through velocity or break, the big thing is to miss bats. Howell misses bats.2005 High Desert: 1.96 ERA, 48 K, 24 BB, 33 H, 2 HR, 46 IP2005 Wichita: 2.50 ERA, 23 K, 5 BB, 12 H, 2 HR, 18 IP2005 Omaha: 5.06 ERA, 2 K, 4 BB, 7 H, 0 HR, 5 IP2004 Idaho Falls: 2.77 ERA, 38 K, 12 BB, 16 H, 1 HR, 26 IPmL Career: 2.46 ERA, 111 K, 45 BB, 68 H, 5 HR, 95 IP He had a stunningly effective ML debut, striking out 8 in 5 innings while allowing only one run for the win. I honestly have no idea how he'll translate at this level for the rest of the season. Pushing a guy this far this fast is always a ticket to unpredictable results. Furthermore, for better or worse, I'm not particularly fond of the strategy. I'd rather see them give Howell at least a half season in Omaha before throwing him to the wolves. Then again, Allard Baird has done a lot of flaky things this season. I like Howell in the long term, but with the rapid ascent and resulting lack of good stats, it's really hard for me to isolate exactly HOW much I like him.ETA: Now, whether I like it or not4 StarsNote: I apologize for the lack of activity around here. As I mentioned before, I've had a touch of burnout that I'm trying to overcome. I won't abandon this blog, but I think that the pace of updates probably won't return to its previous levels until probably the offseason. Doing prospect reports is hard, time-consuming work. Check that, doing INFORMATIVE prospect reports is something that is hard and time-consuming. I strive to make these reports informative, entertaining, and well-written. As I continue to do this, I think I get progressively better at it, as my early stuff was little more than basic, one-paragraph blurbs. I'd also like to expand into more editorial cont[...]

Game Report: Indianapolis vs Charlotte


I attended the Indianapolis Indians game yesterday afternoon. The player I wanted to see was pitcher Ian Snell. I also got another look at Nate McLouth and a first looks at Joe Borchard and Brian Anderson. I was hoping to see Brad Eldred, he didn't play, I presume because he was hit by a pitch on saturday.

Here's some background. It was really hot to begin with. A very stiff breeze out to left center. It was very gusty and I'm surprised nobody took advantage of it. Late in the game a front came through and it cooled off about 10 degrees almost immediately. Everybody was worried that a thunderstorm was imminent, but it never really happened.

Ian Snell looked pretty good, but the Knights got some hits off him. He worked primarily with his fastball. Probably somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of his pitches were heaters. He worked mostly at 93-95 with some 96's thrown in there. He also took a little off of it at times, going down to 90 and 91 probably half a dozen times, mostly early in the game. He didn't lose any velocity as he went on. He was consistently at 95-96 MPH in the 7th. He threw his "hard curve" in the low 80's, and it was his primary off-speed choice. He didn't throw very many changeups and when he did throw it, I could see it coming. He had the same release point on all of his pitches and the same arm action, but his arm SPEED was noticeably slower on the change than it was with the fastball or slurve. He left a couple of pitches up and got punished for it. Ross Gload smashed a triple to deep right center that would have been out of a lot of ballparks. Raul Cassanova hit one out to the right field power alley. It wasn't his best game obviously, but he always seemed like he was in control and I liked what I saw.

Jon Adkins was the opposing starter and I was surprised by his stuff. I didn't remember him having that kind of gas. He pumped it up regularly up to 96 and 97 MPH. The problem is that it didn't have much movement and he left it out over the plate. The Indy outfield combined for 8 hits, 3 of them for extra bases. Nate McLouth in particular looked good. He pulled 2 fastballs to right center ad went the other way with one. He worked the count and made good, hard contact with the pitch that he wanted.

Brian Anderson didn't make much of an impression. Snell didn't give him much to work with on offense, and in the field he did a reasonable job in center. He had one ugly looking play where the wind played havoc with a deep drive to right center and he went crashing into the outfield wall.

All in all, it was a nice afternoon at the ballpark.

Chad Orvella Report


Chad Orvella, RHP, Tampa Bays Devil Rays
Drafted 13th Rd, 2003 Draft, North Carolina State
Bats R/Throws R
24 YO, 5'11", 190 lbs

I just don't know how this happens. Orvella was a college shortstop with a big arm. The Rays drafted him and moved him to the mound and he hit the ground running. Even with little experience, he has 3 spectacular pitches and good command. His low-to-mid 90's fastball has a ton of movement. His changeup is filthy. And his worst pitch is his slider, which is still better than what you'll see from most good major leaguers. I don't know how a guy just picks up a ball and immediately starts doing this.

2004 Total: 1.71 ERA, 116 K, 10 BB, 42 H, 7 HR, 74 IP
pre-2005 mL Career: 1.46 ERA, 132 K, 11 BB, 48 H, 7 HR, 86 IP

After more of the same, he got the call. He should be more than able to be a dominant reliever. If the Rays want him to be their closer, he'd be great. If they want to keep his arbitration payday to be lower, they could get just as much use out of him giving him multiple inning assignments in tight games in the 7th and 8th. Bad teams like the Rays don't really have much of a reason to carry a designated closer. Fantasy owners should keep an eye on him. He joins the ranks that include Jesse Crain and Akinori Otsuka of closers in waiting, who would set the fantasy world alight if they actually do get a chance. If he was on Atlanta's roster, he'd already have been on SportsCenter 3 times by now.

ETA: Now
4 1/2 Stars

Note: Sorry this is only the second prospect report I've posted since coming back from vacation. I've been pretty busy at work and I've been gearing up for the draft.

Today, I hope to go see Ian Snell pitch for the first time. This is also the first time I'll get to see Brad Eldred.

Jose Bautista Report


Jose Bautista, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drafted 599th Overall (20th Rd), 2000 Draft, Chipola (FL) Junior College
Bats R/Throws R
24 YO, 6'0", 195 lbs

Picture for a moment that it is December of 2003. You are Jose Bautista. You just finished up the year in the HiA Carolina League. You missed most of the season with a broken hand. When you did play, your batting average was way below your career norms. Admittedly you only had approximately 650 career at bats before that season, but they came in at just below .300. You've demonstrated good walk rates and gap power to go with a good glove and some athleticism. You just turned 23 a couple months ago and the organization has told you that they like you a lot. They don't have any other serious third base prospects ahead of you. And they have some pretty fungible players on the 40 man roster. As a result, you aren't thinking about the Rule 5 draft coming up. They'll surely add you to the 40 man roster and keep you around. Right?

Wrong. The Pirates left him off the 40 man roster and Baltimore snatched him up, starting him on a bizarre journey that took most of 2004 to sort itself out. He played for 4 Major League teams, none of them particularly good. He didn't play well as he was clearly in over his head. He was put on waivers, claimed, sold, and then traded for Justin Huber, a much better prospect.

MLB Career (2004): .205/.263/.239, 3 2B, 0 HR, 7 BB, 40 K, 88 AB
pre-2005 mL Career: .287/.385/.452, 51 2B, 24 HR, 119 BB, 200 K, 846 AB

This season, he's in AA, where he should have spent last year in the first place. He's playing reasonably well given that he's missed the better part of 2 seasons. He's back to walking, though not at the rate that he showed in the lower minors. His isolated slugging is also down.

Bautista has some talent. He demonstrated some skills early in his career. And the scouts still like him. He lost a lot of development time though and is now at the point on the age curve where he needs to start moving through the high minors. His ceiling probably looks something like Mike Lowell, though I wouldn't bet the house on that. The chances are better that he becomes an ordinary AAA guy.

ETA: Late 2006
2 1/2 Stars

Jason Botts Report


Jason Botts, OF/1B, Texas Rangers
Drafted 1375th Overall (46th Rd), 1999 Draft, Glendale (CA) Junior College
Bats B/Throws R
24 YO, 6'6", 250 lbs

If you were making an All Big Guy prospect team, Botts would almost certainly be the left fielder. That would make an interesting prospect team. Put Brad Eldred at 1B and Walter Young at DH. You can get Mike Morse to play SS. You could pretty easily load up a pitching staff with skyscrapers. Anyways, Botts is a massive guy. He's more athletic than you'd expect a 250 pound man to be, but it still only gets him up to a point where he isn't going embarrass himself in the field. He's probably better suited defensively to be a first baseman, but the Rangers have a ton of guys who are qualified to fill that role, not that they don't have a crowd on the outfield corners and DH spot. His range is limited in left. His arm is decent, but not notable. He also has decent hands and instincts.

2004 Frisco: .293/.399/.507, 25 2B, 24 HR, 77 BB, 126 K, 481 AB
pre-2005 mL Career: .290/.399/.455, 109 2B, 61 HR, 301 BB, 450 K, 1926 AB
2005 Oklahoma: .302/.396/.557, 15 2B, 10 HR, 26 BB, 60 K, 192 AB

He's seen a pretty big jump in his strikeout rate, up into Pat Burrell territory. I'm not usually one to hold that against a guy though, and it certainly doesn't seem to be hurting Burrell these days. It might hold down his average in the long term though. However, he has a long track record of showing good plate discipline and acceptable batting average. And he started making souvenirs of fastballs last year and hasn't slowed down with his promotion this season. He can clearly hit a little bit. And he will always be a credible threat to hit 3 run home runs whether he's in the PCL or with a Major League team. I don't see stardom, and I wouldn't really recommend him for your fantasy team, but if I'm a GM, I'd rather give him some at bats than Raul Mondesi's withered husk or Randy Winn.

ETA: Late 2005
3 1/2 Stars