Results tagged ‘ Prospects ’

Dear National Baseball Media

Dear National Baseball Media ~

With all due respect, Astros fans and bloggers would like for you to shut up about the Astros. Quit writing, quit opining and quit tweeting. In particular, please shut up about the Astros payroll and how it’s supposedly a slap in the face to The Integrity of the Game™.

Believe me when I tell you that Astros fans are well aware that the team lost 213 games over the last two seasons. We are painfully aware of that fact. We are also aware that the Astros will have the lowest payroll in, gasp, all of Major League Baseball. And you have done an admirable job hammering home ad naseum the fact that Alex Rodriguez will make more in 2013 than the entire Astros 25-man roster. Got it. At least I haven’t seen the hackneyed, tired and cliché “Houston, We’ve Got a Problem” headlines yet. (Seriously, it’s time to retire that one and come up with something a tad bit more original.)

For those of us in Houston, those of us who follow the team re-build closely, this year’s payroll is a non-issue. But for a few casual fans who don’t understand the whole concept of a major re-build, no one has really even been talking about it. Until now. Now that national baseball pundits have started claiming that the Astros payroll will somehow compromise  The Integrity of the Game™.

The most prominent naysayer was Peter Gammons who tweeted out that it is “Houston’s plan to have no payroll, lose, get the 1-2 pick 4 years in a row and still steal revenue-sharing $.” Buster Olney also piled on implying that the Astros were not even trying to win and comparing the team to Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose in how the team was damaging The Integrity of the Game™.

Anyone who believes that the Astros are planning to lose and not even trying to win has not met this man.

IMG_5994Bo Porter – February 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Bo Porter, the new manager of the Astros, is an intense, driven man. He is a charismatic leader. He is a demanding task-master. He is an excellent teacher. In short, he is the perfect manager to inspire, motivate and get the absolute maximum effort from this team. Plain and simple, he will tolerate nothing less. I think this team will end up surprising a few people with their aggressive, hard-nosed style of play.

As to the payroll, are the Astros supposed to spend money just to spend money? That’s exactly how you end up paying Carlos Lee almost $19,000,000 to hit a grand total of nine home runs while blocking the ability to fairly evaluate whether or not Brett Wallace will be a part of the team going forward. At this point in the re-building process, it is more important to evaluate prospects than it is to sign free agents to long-term, high dollar contracts. The vast majority of Astros fans understand that and agree with General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s strategy of signing low-risk, high-reward one-year free agents. Until the team figures out what holes need to be filled from outside the organization in order to complement the talent coming up through the ranks, signing long-term (expensive) free agents could very well prove to be counter-productive, resulting in blocking prospects and tying up resources that would be better utilized in further building up the minor league system.

Let’s look at a few of the free agent signings from the winter and why I’m glad they didn’t sign with the Astros:

  • Houston could have signed Shane Victorino to $13,000,000 a year for three years or Michael Bourn to an average of $12,000,000 over four years (and that’s without even getting into the Josh Hamilton’s and B.J. Upton’s of the world). Instead they are signing Rick Ankiel to a modest, incentive-based one-year deal while they wait for George Springer and Domingo Santana to get more experience.
  • Houston could have signed 32-year old Jeff Keppinger to an average of $4,000,000 a year for three years or could have given 37-year old Marco Scutaro $20,000,000 over three years. Instead they signed Ronny Cedeno to a one-year contract while Marwin Gonzales and Jonathan Villar get more experience, and are giving 23-year old Matt Dominguez the chance to be an everyday third baseman for the team. Dominguez has already shown Gold Glove caliber defense and appears to be on the cusp of breaking out with the bat as well.
  • Houston could have signed Lance Berkman to DH for one year for $10,000,000. Or they could do what they’re doing – add Carlos Pena at less than a third of that to establish a veteran presence and give Brett Wallace the opportunity to share the first base/DH duties with Pena. If Wallace can establish himself as a DH, he will be able to stick with the team when top prospect Jon Singleton joins the team later in the season.
  • Houston could have signed 33-year old Jeremy Affeldt to $18,000,000 over three years. Instead they are signing 34-year old Erik Bedard to a fraction of that, hoping to catch lightening in a bottle while minor league lefties Dallas Keuchel, Brett Oberholtzer and Rudy Owens gain more experience.
  • There were a number of huge free-agent contracts for right-handed pitching this year. Jeff Luhnow instead opted to go the low-risk, high-reward direction with Brad Peacock, Alex White and Phil Humber while we wait for Jordan Lyles, Jarred Cosart, Paul Clemens, Jose Cisnero and others to get more experience.

It’s funny that, in looking at all the angst over payroll, it is the the Astros that are taking heat for ruining The Integrity of the Game™ by re-building the team efficiently, while the Yankees are given a free pass in the comparisons as if paying A-Rod $114,000,000 over the next five seasons is good for The Integrity of the Game™.

I truly believe that the Houston team will surprise a few people with their play this season. And while it looks to be another tough season for the team, it will be a valuable season in terms of evaluating and developing prospects. In any event, when all is said and done, the Astros and their fans will have the last laugh. With players like Jon Singleton, Delino DeShields, Carlos Correa, Domingo Santana, George Springer, Lance McCullers, Rio Ruiz, Mike Foltynewicz, Jarred Cosart, Nick Tropeano and Jonathan Villar on their way, Houston is poised to field a strong team of home-grown prospects for many years to come. And that, my friends, is very good for The Integrity of the Game™.

For more on the Astros farm system, visit me at What the Heck, Bobby? or follow me on twitter @whattheheck57.

Who The Eff Is This Guy: Matt Adams

Originally posted on RotoAnalysis.com, Who The Eff Is This Guy is a fantasy baseball series on players when they get the call. It looks at their fantasy value, their likelihood to stay in the majors, and their tools.

On Sunday May 20th, the Cardinals placed Lance Berkman on the 15-day DL and made room for one of my favorite prospects in baseball, Matt Adams, to come up to the major league roster and hypothetically start at first base.

Before we get into his tools and fantasy value, let’s start by talking about who Adams was as a prospect. Before last season, via Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus’ rankings, Matt Adams did not rank among the top 15 prospects in the Cardinals system at any point. Despite success at every stop in the minors, Adams was deemed one of those players who ‘just has to prove it at every level’ because he wasn’t a high draft pick, a great prospect, and at first, he didn’t wow scouts in the stands. That was mostly due to his body.

The first comment on Adams’ tools has to be about his body because it’s… well… notable. He’s got what I would quantify as a ‘pear shaped’ frame, including a wide face, a large gut, huge legs, and a Charles Barkley-esque rear-end. He’s listed at 6’3” 230, but I’d probably add 30-50 pounds to that estimate, and maybe more. That weight and size is bad for his fielding value, as Adams is going to be limited to first base or designated hitter his entire career.

However, that weight does lead to Adams’ best tool, which is his power. He’s got 30 or more home run a year ability, which should come with plenty of doubles as well, and he’s one of the few current prospects (probably fewer than 15) that you can say that about. Unlike most slugging prototypes, Adams pairs his power with a really good hit tool, as he’s hit over .300 at every single level in the minors, including .340 so far this year at Triple A Memphis.

Adams’ big hang-up at the plate is his discipline. He is quite a free-swinger, often getting behind in counts, which has lead to a mediocre K rate (18% this year in Triple A) but a well below average walk rate (6%). He also will provide 0 speed a la Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder.

The one thing I’ll add to his tools profile is that Adams is one of very few current first base prospects in the minors. As it is, there aren’t many great young first basemen in the majors, and it’s a much shallower position than it used to be. That only adds to Adams’ short and long-term value, as he’s likely going to be a top 10 fantasy first basemen for a long time, even if his stats don’t exactly look like it.

Getting back to who Matt Adams was as a prospect, here’s what we’ve learned so far: he’s a St. Louis Cardinals first basemen who wasn’t a high draft pick, has a great hit tool, well above average power, has had success at every level, and has had very little notoriety until getting called up. You don’t have to be a genius to make the Pujols comparison with Adams, but I think that would be unfair to both players. I love Matt Adams and I think he’s going to rake in the majors for a long time, but it’s unfair to him as well as your perception of him to compare him to the best slugger of a generation. There’s a chance that Adams, like Pujols, shines right away, but it is more likely that he will struggle and then adjust.

A fair projection for Adams this season is a .280 15-20 HR guy the rest of the way (if he gets full playing time in the majors), which is good but not great. However, with time, I expect him to blossom into a .300+ hitter with 25-30 homers annually as early as 2014. Get him on board now in keeper leagues where there are basically no good long-term first basemen, and he should be 100% owned as long as he is getting everyday at bats in 10 team or deeper standard formats.

Written by Moe Koltun. You can follow Moe on twitter @MoeProblems, and check out more of his work at Roto Analysis, The Fantasy Fix, and CBS Philly.

Thanks to Daniel Brickner for editing.

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 15 Prospects: May 2012

We are now about a month into the major league and minor league seasons, and I think it is about time that I post my current top 15 prospects in the Pirates’ system.  I plan on making a new one every month during the season, just to see which top prospects are rising through the rankings due to performance and/or adjustments, and to see which players are dropping for any reason.  It’s only a month into the season, so upside is more important than performance for some of the younger prospects.  My rankings for each player in my September rankings are in parenthesis.

 

1.) Jameson Taillon (2)–RHP–20

Taillon was the instant #1 prospect in the system when he was taken 2nd overall in the 2010 draft, but fell to #2 in many rankings after Gerrit Cole was drafted in 2011.  After a stellar start to the season, Taillon has reclaimed the #1 spot in my eyes.    He has a 1.76 ERA and 0.82 WHIP to this point, along with strong secondary numbers, including a 5.6 Hits/9, 9.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, and zero home runs allowed to this point.  Taillon has gained this top spot because he has outperformed Cole at the same level at a younger age, and his changeup, the pitch that helped keep him behind Cole, seems to be coming along nicely.  That pitch is added to an already plus fastball and plus curve.

 

2.) Gerrit Cole (1)–RHP–21

Cole has done nothing wrong to lose his top spot in the rankings.  Taillon has just been performing very well.  Cole has struggled at points in this season, but has a 3.54 ERA and 10.9 K/9, while not allowing many hits.  Cole was the #1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and may already have three plus pitches.  He should be up in AA sometime in the next month.  General Manager Neal Huntington said that both Cole and Taillon are on the “right track” for AA promotions.

 

3.) Starling Marte (3)–CF–23

Marte had a great spring training and this caused many fans to call for him to start the year in the majors.  Management made the right call by putting him in AAA, as he was not ready for the majors.  His average in AAA as of now is .268, but he has a respectable .780 OPS.  His walk rate is up a little, which has been a problem in the past, but so is his strikeout rate, now at 23.2%.  The speedy, rocket-armed outfielder has spent most of his time in center field this year, but unfortunately was hit in the hand by a pitch on May 6th, but Huntington said he is day-to-day.

 

4.) Josh Bell (5)–RF–19

Bell started the year in Low-A, but after only 62 at-bats, got injured while running the bases.  He underwent surgery, and has begun his rehab.  In those at bats, Bell had a .274 average with one homer and a .691 OPS.  He still has the best power in the system, coming from both sides of the plate, so this knee injury definitely hurts the organization.

 

5.) Luis Heredia (4)–RHP–17

Heredia has yet to pitch this year in real games, and will begin his season with the short season State College Spikes when they begin their season in June.  Heredia has the highest upside of anyone on this list, but to reach this potential he will have to learn to better control his pitches, and continue to show good velocity.  At  17 years old, there is definitely time for him, and no need to rush him.

 

6.) Stetson Allie (6)–RHP–21

There is a huge drop off from #5 to #6 on this list.  There is no player that is a clear choice for this spot, and with many players struggling in the system, I went with the remaining player that has the most upside.  I’m not going to speak about Allie and his current 108 BB/9 right now, but he was said to have improved control (can’t really get much worse) in spring training.  He has two plus pitches with his fastball and slider, and if he ever learns to control them, he could be a very good pitcher.  He was demoted to extended spring training to work on his control.

 

7.) Kyle McPherson (9)–RHP–24

McPherson has yet to pitch this year due to shoulder inflammation.  He was able to move up two spots in the rankings because the guys ahead of him have not performed and are showing little signs of improvement. McPherson has great control and three solid pitches, and will start his season in AAA whenever he can return.  He is currently on a throwing program, but shoulder injuries are never a good sign for a pitcher, with an example being Evan Meek.

 

8.) Rudy Owens (18)–LHP–24

Owens made the biggest jump in the rankings of anyone on this list.  So far in his second year of AAA, he has posted a 2.12 ERA and 0.79 WHIP, to go along with much improved walk numbers (which was never really a problem).  He has now set himself up to be the first person out of the AAA rotation to be called up if the Pirates ever need another starter due to injury or trade.

 

9.) Jeff Locke (12)–LHP–24

Along with Owens, Locke is having a very good year in AAA, and is giving himself the opportunity to be called up to the majors if needed.  He has a 2.34 ERA so far, which gives him a 2.27 ERA in 63 career AAA innings.  Locke has good control and good overall pitches, which gives him decent upside in the majors, probably more so than Owens.

 

10.) Tony Sanchez (7)–C–23

Sanchez has yet to figure out how to really hit AA pitching, which is the toughest jump for a hitter.  However, coming out of college as a first rounder, Sanchez should be hitting by this point.  Not only is his hitting not improving by much, his fielding is not really improving either.  I’ve read that his throwing accuracy has gotten worse, but his caught stealing percentage is about the same as last year.  Time seems to be running out for the 2009 fourth overall pick to establish himself as a top prospect.

 

11.) Nick Kingham (11)–RHP–20

Kingham has struggled so far in Low-A, but the potential is still there.  He put up a great statistical year in 2011, and showed good velocity in spring, consistently throwing in the low to mid 90’s.  His curve and change can be solid pitches, but he has mainly focused on his fastball to this point.  His control has escaped him this year, which is the probable cause to his early struggles.  He is young enough that his upside is still the most important thing for him.

 

12.) Colton Cain (10)–LHP–21

Cain  had a solid year in Low-A in 2011, but has had mixed results in High-A this year.  His ERA is at 4.88 after six starts, mainly because a couple bad starts.  Cain has decent control of his fastball, which sits around 90 MPH, and compliments that pitch with a curve and change, with both pitches having the potential to be above average.

 

13.) Matt Curry (15)–1B–23

Curry has the most upside of the first baseman in the upper levels, and is off to a nice start offensively in AA this year.  He currently has a .317 average, to go along with an .843 OPS, two homers, and 17 RBI.  If Curry continues to hit the way he is, we could see him up in AAA this year at some point, pushing Matt Hague to third base.  Again, Curry has more upside than Hague, and is currently the best bet of being the Pirates’ first baseman of the future.

 

14.) Alen Hanson (NA)–SS–19

Hanson has gotten a lot of coverage this season because of his hot start, flirting with an average above .400 for a long time.  His average currently sits at .385 before his game on May 7th, and he has an OPS of 1.059 to go along with that.  This may be a stretch to rank him this high on the list, but a 19 that is hitting like than and who has a chance to be a good defensive shortstop in the future as well definitely deserves some praise. He also has great speed, stealing 11 bases to this point.

 

15.) Robbie Grossman (8)–CF–22

I was a little hesitant to put Grossman at #8 last time because all his success came in his second year in High-A.  So far in his jump to AA, which is the hardest jump for a hitter, he has struggled a good deal at the plate, with a .225 average and .660 OPS.  Grossman suffered a broken hamate bone in the fall, while he was tearing up the Arizona Fall League.  The AFL is a league where many of the top prospects in baseball play after the season is over, so it was nice to see Grossman perform the way he did there.  He is still young, so he has time to adjust to pitchers in AA.  In 2011, he was the first minor leaguer since Nick Swisher in 2004 to score 100 runs and walk 100 times.

 

 

If you have any questions or comments on these rankings, please send them to me on twitter @mikemaw45, or comment below.

Pirates Prospect: Dan Gamache

Dan Gamache was selected by the Pirates in the 2011 amateur draft out of Auburn, where he played third base.  Gamache hit very well in his first two years of college, with an OPS of 1.146 in his first year and 1.024 in his second year.  His production declined in his third year of college, but he still hit for a decent OPS of .878, leading to his selection in the sixth round of the draft.

In college, Gamache didn’t hit for a lot of power, which assisted in the Pirates’ decision to move him over to second base as a pro, where his offense was more suitable for the position.  He struggled in the field in his 26 games for the Pirates in the rookie level Gulf Coast League and State College (Short Season)  last year, where he committed nine errors.  Six of these errors came at third, with the other three coming at second.  However, Gamache is said to be a strong defender with good range and a good arm, so these struggles shouldn’t continue down the road.  So far with Low-A West Virginia in 2012, he has played six games at second and six games as the DH, and has yet to play third.  

As for his hitting, Gamache has yet to impress with his bat.  In his limited time in the minors, he has hit for .262 average and .695 OPS in a total of 126 at bats, all in the lower levels of the minors.  For a hitter that had success for three years in college, you would expect better production.  To this point in 2012, he has improved slightly with a .268 average and .744 OPS.  It is still very early in his career, so there is definitely a chance that his offensive numbers will rise in the future.

Gamache is still young at 21 years old, and has good defensive ability and is talented enough to hit, at least at the lower levels.  He will probably stay at second base for the most part down the road, but with fellow prospect Jodaneli Carvajal playing primarily second base, Gamache will probably see at lot of time as the DH. At the plate, he could hit for a decent average, but unless he adds power to his game, he will probably end up as an organizational player in the upper levels of the minors.  

If you want to see a certain prospect profiled, tweet his name to me @mikemaw45

For more on the Pirates and their prospect, visit http://blogginbuccos.blogspot.com/

Post Hype Prospect – Phil Nevin

The 1992 Major League Baseball Rule IV draft was an amazing draft.  A number of notable players were taken in the first two rounds: Derek Jeter (Yankees, 1st round/6th overall pick), Jason Kendall (Pirates, 1/23), Johnny Damon (Royals, 1s/35), Todd Helton (Padres, 2/55– though he didn’t sign), Jason Giambi (A’s, 2/58), and John Lynch (Marlins, 2/66 – you know him better as the hard-hitting safety for the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

As you may have noticed, the #1 overall pick was not mentioned (in fact, none of the top five picks were mentioned), as he did not live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him.  Phil Nevin was the #1 overall pick in 1992.

After graduating from El Dorado High School in Placetina, California, Nevin was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 82nd overall (3rd round) pick of the 1989 draft and offered $100,000 to play baseball professionally.  Nevin chose to attend college at Cal State Fullerton.  In 1992, Nevin was awarded the NCAA Division I Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur baseball player and earned the MVP of the 1992 College World Series.  The Houston Astros selected Nevin with the first overall pick of the 1992 draft.  This pick was not without controversy, even within the Astros organization.  Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, a scout within the Astros organization, was so upset that the Astros did not pick Derek Jeter that he quit the organization and retired from baseball for good.

Nevin did not sign immediately, as he had more important things on his mind – he was the starting third baseman for Team USA at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

Nevin immediately showed his talent in 1993.  After being ranked the #30 prospect by Baseball America, Nevin put up a 286/359/413 line for the Tuscon Toros, the Astros’ AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.  In 1994, Nevin again returned to the Toros, as the Astros still had Ken Caminiti as their starting third baseman.   Ranked #24 by Baseball America, Nevin seemed to stagnate in Tuscon, putting up a 263/343/393 line.

In 1995, the Astros dealt Caminiti with a number of other players (including Steve Finley) to the San Diego Padres for a number of players (including Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, and Phil Plantier).  Despite third base opening up and being ranked #59 by Baseball America, Nevin began the year back with the Toros.  After putting up a 291/367/463 line in AAA, Nevin was promoted to the Astros.  Appearing in 18 games, Nevin put up a 117/221/133 line that would even embarrass Mario Mendoza.  Nevin got into a shouting match with Manager Terry Collins and, on August 15, the Astros dealt Nevin to the Detroit Tigers to complete a previous trade for Mike Henneman (who was a pretty decent closer for the Tigers at the time, finishing his career with 193 saves and a 3.21 ERA).

Nevin was assigned to the Toledo Mun Hens of the International League, the Tigers’ AAA affiliate.  Nevin was brought up when rosters expanded in September, and put up a 219/318/33 line, primarily playing left field.  With Travis Fryman firmly ensconced at third base, Nevin, no longer considered a rookie and therefore ineligible for prospect ranking, was sent to the Jacksonville Suns, the Tigers’ AA affiliate in the Southern League.  Nevin finally put up big numbers, putting up a robust 294/397/561 for the Suns.  Though primarily a third baseman who played some left field and first base, spent 62 of his 98 games playing catcher, a position entirely foreign to him.  In August, Nevin made his first big league appearance of the year for the Tigers.  Primarily playing third base, Nevin put up a solid 292/338/533 line in 130 plate appearances.

In November 1997, Nevin was dealt to the Anaheim Angels with Matt Walbeck for Nick Skuse.  In 75 games for the Angels, Nevin hit an unimpressive 228/291/371.  Traded on the eve of the regular season, Nevin was dealt again, this time to the San Diego Padres with Keith Volkman for Gus Kennedy and Andy Sheets.  Nevin seemed to bloom in San Diego, putting up a 269/352/527 line across 441 plate appearances while playing third base and catching.  As San Diego’s starting third baseman, Nevin put up a 303/374/543 line in 2000 and 306/388/588 line in 2001 while making his first All Star Game.  In 2002, Nevin strained his arm in May, just three days after his return, Nevin fractured his humerus, missing the next six weeks of the season.  Nevin put up a 285/344/413 line in 2002, followed by a 279/339/487 2003 campaign where he missed four months of the season after dislocating his left shoulder in Spring Training.  Nevin was healthy again in 2004, primarily playing first base and putting up a 289/368/492 line, Nevin’s last big season.  In May, Nevin was accused of spewing a string of vulgarities in front of young fans, including the man’s 8-year-old daughter in Philadelphia.  After taking a called third strike, Nevin was heckled by the historically foul-mouthed Philadelphians and responded in a manner he later conceded to be “unprofessional.”

In 2005, at the age of 34, Nevin began to decline.  After putting up a 256/301/399 line in 73 games for the Padres, Nevin was dealt to the Texas Rangers for Chan Ho Park and cash, where he put up a 182/250/323 line in 29 games.  In 2006, Nevin hit 216/301/415 for the Rangers, then was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Jerry Hairston, Jr., where he seemed to rebound, putting up a 274/335/497 line over 67 games.  At the trading deadline, Nevin was dealt with cash to the Minnesota Twins for Adam Harben.  Nevin finished the season with a 190/340/286 line in 16 games for the Twins.

After that inauspicious ending to the season, Nevin never played another inning of professional baseball.  Formally announcing his retirement in May 2007, Nevin began working pre-game shows for the Padres, then worked for ESPN as a college baseball analyst in 2008.  In 2009, Nevin was the manager of the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League.  In 2010, Nevin managed the Erie SeaWolves, the AA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.  In 2011, Nevin managed the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers’ AAA affiliate, where he still manages today.

So what happened to Nevin?  He never came close to the lofty expectations placed on a first overall draft pick, but he had a solid career, putting up a 270/343/472 career line (career 114 OPS+) across 1217 games and turning into a top managerial prospect.  Of course, the real vindication was for Hal Newhouser, as the best player in the 1992 draft was, by nearly 20 career WAR, Derek Jeter.

Sources:

http://www.eldoradobaseball.com/retired-jerseys/

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/n/newhoha01.shtml

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=olney_buster&id=1863947

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=nevin-001phi

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/n/nevinph01.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=year_round&year_ID=1992&draft_round=1&draft_type=junreg

http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/index.cgi?draft_round=2&year_ID=1992&draft_type=junreg&query_type=year_round

http://articles.latimes.com/1996-09-01/sports/sp-40911_1_phil-nevin

http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20040526/news_1s26nevin.html

http://detroit.tigers.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20091215&content_id=7814760&vkey=news_det&fext=.jsp&c_id=det

http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ros&cid=512&stn=true&sid=t512

Pirates Prospect: Alen Hanson (SS)

In my post about potential “breakout” prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the players that I profiled was Alen Hanson.  Hanson is a 19 year old shortstop currently playing for Low-A West Virginia in the South Atlantic League.  For a quick look at Hanson, refer to the post I mentioned above at http://thefuturists.mlblogs.com/2012/04/15/pittsburgh-pirates-breakout-prospect-candidates-2/.

Hanson is praised as being a “true shortstop”, having good range and defensive ability.  He is also a plus runner who has the ability to hit for average in the future.  And so far this year, Hanson has shown power that was not present in his first two years in the Pirates’ organization, with four home runs in his first 52 at bats this year, compared to four home runs 452 at bats in the minors.  Although it is very unlikely that he continues to hit home runs at this pace, he could eventually end up hitting 10-20 home runs a year in the majors.  That is still impressive for a shortstop listed at 5’11” and 152 pounds.

It will be interesting to see if Hanson can continue to hit for a good average along with a good OPS in 2012 because he had a similar hot start last year in the rookie level Gulf Coast League, only to see his numbers drop drastically as the season progressed.  ESPN writer Keith Law said that Hanson has “a chance to really hit”, but a position prospect’s ability to hit can not truly be determined until they reach the upper levels of the minors, where they will face more advanced pitchers who work with more breaking pitches and have more experience.  Hanson won’t reach the AA level until 2014 if everything goes right, hoping he can have success in his first full season in Low-A ball in 2012 and then spend 2013 in High-A ball.  From there we will be able to better see what kind of player Hanson is.
For now, Alen Hanson looks like a player who can handle the shortstop position very well, has great speed, can hit for a good average, and can hit for some surprising power for his size.  He has the highest upside of any shortstop prospect in the Pirates minor league system, and if he continues his success in the lower levels, he has the chance to be a top 100 prospect in the minors in the next few years.

For more on prospects and the Pittsburgh Pirates, visit http://blogginbuccos.blogspot.com/ and follow me on twitter @mikemaw45

Non-Hype Prospect – Heath Bell

It is often said that Americans love the narrative of the underdog.  That is only partially true: the whole world loves the underdog.  We root for the upset; we root for the improbable; we root for the statistically improbable.  There’s nothing the world loves more than David taking out Goliath (unless, of course, we have Goliath on our fantasy team).  The prospect equivalent to David is the undrafted free agent.  A player so undesired, whose desire to play professional baseball is so unrequited, that no team values them highly enough to say their name on a conference call.  Many of these players are signed and never make it out of A ball, but a select few make the show and become stars including, but not limited to, Larry Bowa, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Leyritz.

Much has been made about how Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round in 1988, but he was drafted (albeit as a favor to his father by his godfather, Tommy Lasorda).  The subject of this article is three-time All-Star Heath Bell, a pitcher who placed 8th in the 2010 National League Cy Young Award vote.  Despite lettering in football, basketball, and baseball while attending Tustin High School in Tustin, California, Bell failed to impress scouts and was not drafted.  Bell attended Santiago Canyon College and was named a freshman All-American in 1997.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected Bell in the 69th Round of the 1997 draft.  The 69th round had a total of three picks (neither of which appeared to play any professional baseball at any point), the final of which was Bell.   Bell didn’t sign with the Devil Rays and made two appearances for the El Dorado Broncos in the National Baseball Congress World Series.  Alas, Bell was not drafted in 1998 and signed with the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998.

Bell impressed from the start, a 2.54 ERA and 61 strike outs in 22 games (46 innings) at Kingsport of the Rookie Level Appalachian League in 1998 earned him a promotion to the Mets full season A affiliate for 1999, the South Atlantic League’s Capital City Bombers.  In Capital City, Bell put up a 2.60 ERA with 68 strikeouts across 62.1 innings.  In 2000, Bell appeared in 48 games for the St. Lucie Mets, the Mets’ affiliate in the High A Florida State League.  In St. Lucie, Bell continued to excel, striking out 75 in 60 innings while putting up a sparkling 2.55 ERA.

Bell hit his first bump in 2001, when he was promoted to the Mets’ affiliate in the Eastern League, the Binghamton Mets.  Bell appeared in 43 games, striking out 55 and putting up a 6.02 ERA.  Bell returned to Binghamton in 2002 and put up an electric 1.18 ERA while striking out 49 in 38 innings.  Bell was promoted to the Norfolk Tides, the Mets AAA affiliate in the International League, and pitched reasonably well, putting up a 4.26 ERA with 28 strike outs in 31.2 innings.  In 2003, Bell put up a lackluster 4.71 ERA at Norfolk, while striking out 44 in 49.2 innings.  After the season, it was revealed that Bell had a stress fracture in his right arm that Mets team doctors failed to diagnose.

After one two-inning appearance in Binghamton to start 2004, Bell was promoted to Norfolk, where he put up a 3.12 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, earning Bell a September call up to the Mets where he put up a respectable 3.33 ERA with 27 strikeouts across 24.1 innings.  In 2005, Bell began riding the “Heath Bell Express”, as he was shuttled between AAA Norfolk and New York as the Mets whenever the Mets needed another bullpen arm.  Bell put up a 1.69 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.59 ERA for the Mets.  Bell clashed with Mets’ Pitching Coach Rick Peterson, who put the kibosh on Bell’s weight-losing in-line skating that helped him lose weight during spring training.  In 2006, Bell resumed riding the “Heath Bell Express” as he put up a 1.29 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.11 ERA for the Mets.

In mid-November, the Mets dealt Heath Bell and Royce Ring to the San Diego Padres for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins.  Acquiring Bell paid immediate dividends for the Padres.  After putting up a 2.02 ERA over 93.2 innings in 2007, Bell put up a 3.58 ERA over 78 innings in 2008.  In 2009, longtime Padres closer Trevor Hoffman signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and Bell became the closer, racking up a National League-leading 42 saves to go with his sparkling 2.71 ERA.  Bell’s success has continued, as he put up 47 saves to go with a 1.93 ERA in 2010 followed by 43 saves and a 2.44 ERA in 2011.

After the 2011 season, Bell became a free agent for the first time and signed a three-year contract worth $27 million (with a vesting option for a fourth year worth another $9 million based upon games finished) with the Florida Miami Marlins.  While Bell has not been perfect to start the season (or, even, particularly good), there is no reason to suspect Bell will be anything other than the top-tier closer that he has been for the past three seasons.  On a personal note, I must say I am happy for him.  I always felt that the Mets misused him, though some of that may have been a result of his outspoken ways, as first reported in an article by Tim Kurkjian:

“Everything in New York was so serious,” Bell said. “I should keep my mouth shut, but I never do. In 2005, I didn’t pitch for 28 straight days. I don’t know if I did something to Willie [Randolph, then the manager of the Mets]. I didn’t always get along with [then pitching coach] Rick Peterson. I don’t know if they wanted to make me the scapegoat. It was a bad situation. I was an undrafted player. I was a walk-on. I was the last guy to get to the big leagues. I came in with [former manager] Art Howe, then went to Willie. I was with [former general manager] Steve Phillips, then [former GM] Jim Duquette, then [current general manager] Omar Minaya. No one really saw me. But they heard about me in the papers.”

Alas, the first question is: What happened?  How did every team miss on Bell (twice, as he was not drafted in the 1998 draft)?  The answer is that drafting baseball players is incredibly difficult and the level of play between high school and college are an ocean away from the level of play in the major leagues.  This difference of play requires scouts to make projections about players four to six years into the future, a difficult task at best. The Mets should get credit for giving Bell a chance, but should be severely dinged for the fact that, once he showed the ability to thoroughly dominate AAA, never giving Bell a chance to succeed at the major league level.  Further, former Mets General Manager Omar Minaya should be excoriated for his trades prior to the 2007 season.  Dealing Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres for non-factors Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins was just the start of the problem.  Minaya continued by dealing relievers Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom to the Marlins for Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick (which would have worked out well had Minaya not dealt the solid Vargas to the Seattle Mariners in the ill-fated J.J. Putz deal), then dealing reliever Brian Bannister for Ambiorix Burgos, who pitched poorly, got hurt, then committed a number of crimes (assaulting his girlfriend, hit an run, then kidnapping and poisoning his ex-wife).

The second question is: How did Bell figure it out?  Clearly the Mets felt Bell was little more than a middle reliever or, possibly even gave bell the dreaded 4A label.  Maybe Bell was better than the Mets believed, but I feel that Bell learned a lot from one of the greatest closers of all time, Trevor HoffmanAs Bell put it:

“Trevor taught me a lot, including, ‘let’s have fun,'” Bell said. “He taught me that we have to be serious, but we’re allowed to have fun before and after games. Before the position players arrive every spring, the pitchers play games with comebackers [balls hit back to the box] and we play a game where we hit in the cage with fungos. It’s fun. San Diego has allowed me to be me. When the game starts, I want to tear your head off, but I’m one of the nicest guys I know. In Philadelphia last year, a fan screamed at me from the stands, ‘How many cheesesteaks did you have today, four?’ I yelled back, ‘Only three, why don’t you get me a fourth?’ Another guy yelled, ‘Hey, fatso.’ I yelled back, ‘Tell me something I don’t know. C’mon, this is Philly, you’re supposed to be better hecklers than that.'”

In the end, Heath Bell made it his own way and we should all be rooting for him, the true underdog.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=bell–001hea

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bellhe01.shtml

http://www.heathbell21.com/?page_id=2

http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20090413&content_id=4253624&vkey=news_sd&fext=.jsp&c_id=sd

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/bell-rings-true-san-diego-article-1.270871

http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20061115&content_id=1741019&vkey=news_nym&fext=.jsp&c_id=nym

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=kurkjian_tim&id=4073444

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07G23zMGa4g

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3620877

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3631601

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/29/ambiorix-burgos-charged-w_n_698163.html

Pittsburgh Pirates Breakout Prospect Candidates

Over the past few seasons the Pittsburgh Pirates have accumulated a lot of young, raw talent in the lower levels of their minor league system, via the draft and international signings.  The Pirates have some high profile prospects in their organization, most notably Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Starling Marte, but are said to lack depth after these type of players.  But with all the young talent, that problem can definitely be resolved.

There are multiple players in the Pirates system that could be “breakout” prospects this year.  A few players from recent drafts that could receive this label are: Stetson Allie (2nd round, 2010), Zack Von Rosenberg (6th, 2009),  and Mel Rojas Jr. (3rd, 2010).  International signings that could be breakout prospects are: Jose Osuna, Willy Garcia, Alen Hanson, Jordaneli Carvajal, and Gregory Polanco.  In this post, I will evaluate five of these players that I believe are the most likely to have “breakout” years.

Stetson Allie
This was my write-up for Allie back in September when I released my top 30 prospects for Bloggin Buccos.

6.) Stetson Allie–RHP–20:  With Allie, there is a lot of risk involved, but the reward can be very high.  He hadn’t really pitched a good amount before his senior year in high school, but he had great natural pitches and velocity (hitting triple digits often)  and pitched well enough to earn the #8 prospect in the 2010 pre-draft rankings by Baseball America.  He fell to the Pirates in the second round because of the money he wanted, but the Pirates were able to sign him for a $2.25 million bonus.  Some expected him to begin the season with West Virginia, but that wouldn’t have been a good decision due to his lack of experience on the mound.  He made his debut with short-season State College when their season started, and originally pitched out of the rotation.  His control was a major question mark coming into the season, and he showed why that was.  Allie struggled with control throughout the season, and was moved to the bullpen to work on it.  The control never really came, and he ended up walking 29 batters in 26 innings, but he also struck out 28.  A positive sign from the season was that hitters only batted .208 against him, so if he can better control his pitches, he could be something special.  Some see his long term role as a power closer, but for now the Pirates will most likely continue his development as a starter.  I believe he will start in extended Spring Training next year, but he could be in West Virginia sometime in late April or May if he makes strides with his control.  If everything goes right, Allie can be a top of the rotation starter with a fastball nearing 100 MPH, along with a great breaking slider that can reach the low 90’s.

As it turned out, Allie started the season for low-A West Virginia after showing somewhat improved control in spring training.  In his first start, however,  his control was non-existent as he walked four batters in 0.1 innings, allowing two earned runs.  He missed his next start with tightness in his elbow.  Reports from minor league spring training seemed positive, stating that his control looked much better, but his first start seemed extremely far from that.  But, if he can start throwing more strikes, he will be a very interesting prospect.  He has two plus pitches when he can throw in the strike zone, but still has to develop a changeup to have success as a starter.
Allie is very hard to hit, but will need better control if he is to stay a starting pitcher.  If his control really is getting better and his first start was just a fluke, he could be an excellent starting pitcher, possibly breaking back into Baseball America’s top 100 prospects again, where he was ranked #79 heading into 2011.

Zack Von Rosenberg
My write-up for Von Rosenberg in September for Bloggin Buccos top 30 Pirates prospects:

17.) Zack Von Rosenberg–RHP–20:  ZVR had a terrible year on paper.  He had a 5.73 ERA while spending the entire season at low-A West Virginia pitching out of the rotation.  However, ZVR put up some impressive secondary numbers, with 8.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 ratios, to go along with a decent 1.32 WHIP.  A lot of his struggles this year can be explained by his lack of command, leaving the ball up in the zone too often.  The Pirates teach their minor league pitchers to better command their fastball in the lower levels, so we can expect this to improve moving forward.  I ranked ZVR at #17, but I feel like he could make a case for the top 10 Pirates prospects because of his potential.  Baseball America ranked him as the #41 prospect coming out of the 2009 draft, and he has a good amount of upside.  His secondary pitches worked very well for him when he used them more, and he finished the season strongly, with a 2.66 ERA in his final 9 starts.  He also threw six perfect innings in his last start of the year.  If he learns better command of his fastball, ZVR is a definite candidate for a breakout season at Bradenton next year, where he is expected to begin the season.

Von Rosenberg is on the low-A West Virginia roster to begin the season, making it his second year at that level.  Leaving the ball up in the zone will cause problems for any pitcher, especially if they throw 88-91 MPH with their fastball, as Von Rosenberg does.  However, ZVR has a projectable build, meaning he has a chance to add velocity moving forward.  He possesses a good curveball that helped him out later in the 2011 season.  His secondary numbers from 2011 are definitely encouraging, and keeping the ball lower in the zone will allow him to lower his 10.2 H/9 from 2011.  In 2009 and 2010, ZVR was viewed as a prospect that could eventually become a top of the rotation starter, and at 21 years old, there is still time for him to develop into that role.

Mel Rojas Jr.
Rojas came in at number 27 in my rankings in September.

27.) Mel Rojas Jr.–CF–21:  When it comes to players like Rojas, his prospect status is based purely on his raw talent, not on his stats.  He has not put up strong numbers to this point, with a .246/.312./.335 line for Low-A West Virginia in 2011.  That’s a .646 OPS, not very impressive for a player with his talent at such a low level.  However, when he was drafted in 2010 out of Junior College, some scouts said that he has the ability to develop into a five tool player.  He has good speed and has showed he can play center field with a good arm, but his hitting has not lived up to expectations.  He started to turn things around at the end of this season, so that should earn him a promotion to Bradenton next year.  He is too raw to project what he could be in the majors, but Rojas has enough potential and talent to take him to that level.

Rojas did end up making the next step to High-A Bradenton in 2012 as the starting right fielder, with Evan Chambers starting in center field.  He’s gotten off to a good start in his first nine games, with a .333 average and .896 OPS.  He has shown to be a good fielder with speed, so the main concern with him will be his ability to hit, and his ability to hit for power.  Rojas has raw power, which he displays in batting practice, but has yet to show that in games, with only five home runs 708 minor league at bats in the lower levels.  It’s been a small sample size so far, but if he can continue to hit well this season, Rojas definitely has the ability to be a five-tool talent that could join a list of very talented young outfielders in the Pirates’ organization.

Alen Hanson
Hanson did not make my top 30 prospects list, but was a candidate to take one of the final spots.  He played 2011 in the Gulf Coast League after a successful 2010 season in the Dominican Summer League where he hit .324 with an .830 OPS.  Hanson has good speed and good defense, but after a hot start last year, he trailed off and ended up hitting .260 with a .767 OPS.  He had 22 extra base hits in 208 at bats, which helped raise his OPS to a decent level.  In 2012, Hanson is off to an amazing start for Low-A West Virginia, batting .404 in his first 52 at batswith four home runs (he had four homers in his first 452 at bats in the minors), along with nine RBI, five doubles and a triple.  Hanson has all the tools to be an above average player in the majors, and if he continues to swing a hot bat, he could be a top 100 prospect in the upcoming years.

Gregory Polanco
Along with Hanson, Polanco was not on my top 30 prospects list, but was not in contention for any of the final spots.  He struggled in the past, with a combined .218 average in 357 at bats in the rookie level Gulf Coast League.  But in 2012 he seems to have figured some of his hitting troubles out, as he is off to a great start, batting .333 in 39 at bats with four home runs and 12 RBI.  Polanco possesses good speed and has the ability to play center field, but will probably end up at a corner outfield spot in the future.  It was a surprise that Polanco started the year in Low-A, but so far he has adjusted very well.  He has the natural ability to continue hitting for a good average and power, to go along with a good amount of stolen bases.

The Pirates have a lot of young players in the lower levels of their organization that have a lot of raw talent, but have yet to have success.  Recently, the team has seen prospects like Robbie Grossman and Kyle McPherson break out, and many more have the chance to in the near future.  Also, guys in the upper levels that were once top prospects that could develop into strong major league options after struggling in the recent years are Tim Alderson (Baseball America’s #45 prospect in 2009), Andrew Lambo (#49 in 2009), Tony Sanchez (#46 in 2011), Gorkys Hernandez (#62 in 2009), and Bryon Morris.  Depth could be an issue for the Pirates for now, but the talent is there to have one of the top minor league systems.

For more on prospects and the Pittsburgh Pirates, visit http://blogginbuccos.blogspot.com/ and follow me on twitter @mikemaw45

Post Hype Prospect – Mark Prior and Joe Mauer

If one was to look at the 2001 MLB Rule IV Draft without any knowledge of the change in the baseball landscape over the past decade, it would be likely that it would make sense that Joe Mauer was picked ahead of Mark Prior (though one might wonder why Mark Teixeira and David Wright went as late as they did). Mauer and Prior have become inextricably linked due to the Minnesota Twins’ overt refusal to pay Prior’s bonus demands and the veracity of the old adage: there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect (or, TNSTAAPP, for short).

Leading up to the 2001 draft, Mark Prior was viewed as the complete package. Prior, a 6’5” 230 pound righty at the University of Southern California, was the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy, given annually to the national college baseball player of the year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association after a season where he went 15-1 with a 1.70 ERA while striking out 202 batters, walking 18, and allowing 100 hits in 138 innings. Prior’s pitching motion appeared to be clean and easy, while he threw mid-90s fastballs, coupled with his curveball, slurve, and a changeup. Viewed as nearly ready for major league baseball, Prior was rumored to want a record-setting contract and made it publicly know, albeit through back channels, that he did not want to be drafted by the Minnesota Twins. The Minnesota Twins, often claiming that they could not financially compete with the larger market teams despite their owner, Carl Pohlad, being one of the richest owners in all of sports (his estimated wealth in 2006 was $2.6 billion), had a decision to make. Potentially blow the #1 pick in the draft or take another player. Another top college player, Mark Teixeira, represented by Scott Boras, was rumored to be seeking a similar bonus to Prior, was not an alternative.

Accordingly, the Twins turned their attention to a local option, St. Paul’s Joe Mauer. A multi-sport standout at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mauer was the USA Today High School Player of the Year in football (2000) and in baseball (2001), and had committed to play both sports at Florida State. Additionally, Mauer had appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd feature (not entirely relevant, but pretty cool).

With the #1 pick in the 2001 Rule IV draft, the Minnesota Twins picked Mauer, a move that, to the casual observer, looked like a total cop-out move. But would time bear out their pick? Yes, but not for the reasons considered at the time.

Mauer signed quickly in 2001 and appeared in 32 games for the Elizabethtown Twins, the Twins Rookie level Appalachian League affiliate, putting up a 400/492/491 slash line splitting his time between catching and DH’ing. Prior didn’t sign until August and failed to appear in any league games.

In 2002, Baseball America‘s Top 10 looked like this:

1. Josh Beckett, rhp, Marlins

2. Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs

3. Hank Blalock, 3b, Rangers

4. Sean Burroughs, 3b, Padres

5. Carlos Pena, 1b, Athletics

6. Juan Cruz, rhp, Cubs

7. Joe Mauer, c, Twins

8. Wilson Betemit, ss, Braves

9. Drew Henson, 3b, Yankees

10. Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers

In effect, Baseball America said that the draft order should have gone Mark Prior, Joe Mauer, then Mark Teixeira (who went #5 to the Rangers, after the then-Devil Rays picked Dewon Brazelton at #3 then the Phillies picked Gavin Floyd at #4).

In 2002, Prior dominated the minor leagues. In six starts with the AA West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League, he struck out 55and walked 10, while putting up a 2.60 ERA in 34.2 innings (14.3 K/9). In May, he was promoted to the AAA Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League (Iowa is on the Pacific coast?) and was nearly as dominant, striking out 24 and walking 8 in 16.1 innings, while putting up a sparkling 1.65 ERA. On May 22, Prior made his big league debut, striking out 10, and allowing only four hits and two runs in six innings, to pick up his first big league win. Prior put up a solid 3.32 ERA (122 RRA+) in 19 starts over 116.2 innings. Prior came in 7th in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting (despite having the second highest WAR).

Mauer’s 2002 season was also impressive, as he hit 302/393/392 for the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Twins’ A-level affiliate in the Midwest League. Mauer caught 81 games, played 13 at first base, and spent some time at DH, impressing scouts with his talent. After 2002, Prior was no longer eligible to be on any top prospect lists, but Mauer moved up to #4 on Baseball America’s list (behind Mark Teixeira, Rocco Baldelli, and Jose Reyes, just slightly ahead of future first ballot Hall of Famer Jesse Foppert).

Prior’s 2003 is the stuff of legends (or nightmares for Cubs fans, who watched Dusty Baker make Prior and Kerry Wood throw as many pitches as humanly possible), as Prior went 18-6 in 30 starts, logging 211.1 innings, while striking out 245 batters (10.4/9) and placing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting (behind Eric Gagne and Jason Schmidt, despite having the highest WAR of any pitcher in the NL). The Cubs came a mere out from making it to their first World Series since the Truman Administration. Mauer had another banner season in the minor leagues. Starting the year playing for the Fort Myers Miracle of the High-A Florida State League, Mauer put up a 335/395/412 line while splitting time between catcher and DH. Promoted to the New Britain Rock Cats of the AA Eastern League, Mauer’s numbers improved, hitting 341/400/453, playing almost exclusively behind the plate. Mauer put also walked 49 times and struck out 49 times, showing a mature approach to go with his pure talent. Mauer also took part of the 2003 All-Star Futures Game at U.S. Cellular Field.

Both Prior and Mauer spent significant time on the DL in 2004. Prior missed the first two months of the 2004 season with an injury to his Achilles tendon. Rumors swirled that Prior’s ulnar collateral ligament was injured and he would need Tommy John surgery, but both Prior and the Cubs denied the rumors. Prior ended up with a 4.02 ERA in 21 starts, finishing the season with a career high 16 strike outs against the Cincinnati Reds. Mauer, now ranked Baseball America’s #1 overall prospect, began the year as the starting catcher for the Twins, and went 2/3 with two walks. In his second game of the season, Mauer injured his left medial meniscus (read: cartilage in the knee), had surgery, and missed a month of the season. After a cup of tea in the minors (7 total games), Mauer returned to the twins and immediately began mashing. On July 15, Mauer had a 308/369/570 line when the pain and swelling in his knee forced an early ending to the 2004 season.

In 2005, Prior began the year on the DL and did not make his debut until April 13. Prior was pitching well when, on May 27, Prior was hit on his right elbow by a comebacker off the bat of Brad Hawpe, causing a compression fracture and sending Prior back to the DL. Prior returned on June 26 and made a total of 27 starts, putting up a 3.67 ERA in 166.2 Innings, with 188 strike outs. Mauer, still considered a rookie (he had 122 at bats in 2004, just eight shy of the required 130), was again ranked the #1 prospect in Baseball America and, again, began the year as the starting catcher for the Twins. Mauer appeared in 131 games, putting up a 294/372/411 slash line.

2006 is when it all fell apart for Prior, as he felt stiffness in his shoulder during spring training and was diagnosed with a strained shoulder. Prior’s debut did not occur until June 18, when the Detroit Tigers scored eight runs (seven earned) in 3.2 innings. Prior went six innings only once in 2006. Prior ended up making only nine starts, pitching 43.2 innings, striking out 38 batters (while a 7.8 K/9 is great for many pitchers, Prior averaged 10.6 K/9 his first four seasons), and earning a 7.21 ERA. On July 14, Prior was put on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with tendinitis. In 2006, Mauer appeared in 140 games, putting up a 347/429/507 slash line. Mauer’s .347 batting average led the Major Leagues (.003 ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Freddy Sanchez). Mauer was selected to his first All-Star Game, was awarded his first Silver Slugger, and came in 6th place in the AL MVP vote (teammate Justin Morneau won the award despite having the 19th highest WAR. Grady Sizemore, who came in 11th place led the league with a 7.3 WAR and Mauer, with a 7.0 WAR was in second place. Third place was held by teammate Johan Santana, with 6.9).

In the off season, Prior filed for salary arbitration for the first time, eventually agreeing with the Cubs on a $3.575 contract for 2007. In April, Dr. James Andrews performed exploratory arthroscopic surgery on Prior, and determined that he had injuries to his shoulder, and performed a debridement of Prior’s rotator cuff, and repaired labral and capsular injuries in Priors shoulder. Prior would be out the entire season, though reports at the time indicated that he could be back at full strength in 2008. Though not as extreme, Mauer also had injury issues in 2007. After agreeing to a four-year, $33 million contract with the Twins (with a $25,000 bonus for winning the Gold Glove), Mauer had a small stress fracture during spring training, followed by a left quadriceps strain in early June, which landed him on the 15-day DL. Mauer appeared in only 109 games, still putting up a solid 293/382/426 slash line.

Mark Prior would not pitch in an organized, professional baseball game until 2010, and only pitched a total of 24 innings before being beset by more injuries. Conversely, Mauer put up MVP-caliber numbers, with a 332/411/481 slash line from 2008-2011, while leading the AL in batting twice, and putting up a historic 365/444/587 slash line in route to the MVP in 2009. Though his numbers have come down significantly since 2009 (while his salary has skyrocketed), Mauer is still an elite defensive catcher with a potent bat (and great sideburns).

So what happened? Were the pundits incorrect? Yes, but It is easy to look back at a draft and think “I could have done better,” but it is nearly impossible to predict what a group of people under age 22 will do over the course of the next 15 years. The 2001 draft was seemingly filled with more landmines than most (Dewan Brazelton, the #3 pick has a -4.0 WAR, and 18 of the 44 first round or supplemental first round picks failed to reach the major leagues), but, in the end, it appears that going the “cheap” route worked well for the Twins, at least until they have to pay off the nearly $160 million left on Joe Mauer’s contract.

In the end, the best pick may have been one of the following:

  • A right handed pitcher from Pepperdine taken with the 28th pick of the second round (#72 overall) named Dan Haren;
  • A first baseman from Missouri State University taken with the 4th pick of the 5th round (#140 overall) named Ryan Howard;
  • A third baseman from the University of Cincinnati taken with the 17th pick of the 8th round (#243 overall) named Kevin Youkilis; or
  • A second baseman from the University of Memphis taken with the 22nd pick of the 11th round (#338) named Dan Uggla.

Either way, their result was better than Mark Prior. Maybe, just maybe, if a few things had been slightly different, we would have been mocking the Twins for being cheap and applauding the Cubs for being willing to spend money.

Until next time, follow me at @HypeProspect.
Update: The Boston Red Sox have signed Mark Prior to a contract, presumably a minor league deal, per a tweet from Jon Heyman:

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=prior-001mar

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/priorma01.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=mauer-001jos

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mauerjo01.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/index.cgi?round=1&year_ID=2001&draft_type=junreg

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/top-100-prospects/all-time.html

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2849094

Post Hype Prospect – Jay Payton

Not all Post Hype Prospects flame out and don’t reach the majors.  Many Post Hype Prospects become useful major league players, even All-Stars, but fail to achieve prognosticated the level of success.  One of the many players who fall into this category is Jay Payton.

Jason Lee (“Jay”) Payton grew up as a multi-sport standout at Zanesville High School in Zanesville, Ohio.  Being named the Connie Mack World Series tournament MVP after his senior year in high school, Payton attended Georgia Institute of Technology (more commonly known as Georgia Tech) , where his teammates included Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek.  In the 1994 College World Series, Georgia Tech lost in the championship game to an Oklahoma team led by Chip Glass (birth name David Jason), who was named CWS Most Outstanding Player.  In the first round of the 1994 draft, the New York Mets took Paul Wilson with the #1 overall pick (more on him in a later post, to be sure), Terrance Long #20 (as compensation for the Orioles signing Sid Fernandez), and Payton #29 (also compensation for the Orioles signing Fernandez) with the first pick of the supplemental first round.

Payton signed quickly and appeared in 58 games for the Mets’ Short Season A affiliate, the Pittsfield Mets of the New York Penn League (in addition to the Mets’ affiliate being in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, there were also teams in New Jersey, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Ontario), hitting a robust 365/439/498 with ten stolen bases and nine (!) HBP.  Payton was promoted to the Mets’ AA affiliate, the Binghamton Mets, for the final eight games of the season where he hit a gentlemanly 280/357/320.  Payton was rated the #96 prospect by Baseball America and assigned to the AA Binghamton Mets, where he mashed to a 345/395/535 slash line, primarily playing Center Field.  Payton was promoted to the Mets’ AAA affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, for the final 50 games of the season.  In Norfolk, Payton put up a lackluster 240/284/398 slash line.  After the 1995 season, Payton had his medial collateral ligament (MCL) surgically repaired after the 1995 season, a problem many felt was the reason for the poor AAA showing.

Baseball America took notice and ranked Payton the #21 prospect for 1996.  In 1996, Payton played only 71 games, with 55 of them in Norfolk, putting up an impressive 307/363/503 slash line while in Norfolk.  Payton had more injury troubles, thoroughly destroying us ulnar collateral ligament and hurting his shoulder, resulting in surgery on both his shoulder and Tommy John surgery on his elbow.   Despite the short season and injury concerns, Payton was rated the #34 prospect for 1997.  Unfortunately, Payton missed the entire 1997 season rehabilitating from his injuries.

In 1998, Payton played in 85 games, 82 of them in Norfolk, putting up a pedestrian 261/318/404 slash line while just trying to stay healthy.  He also put up a more impressive 318/348/364 slash line in a cup of tea during September.  In 1999, a healthy Payton put up a 389/437/674 slash line in Norfolk, appearing in 13 games with the Mets, hitting 250/333/375 while in the Majors.  Coming out of Spring Training, Payton appeared to be sharing the 4th outfielder role with Benny Agbayani, but Payton appeared in 124 games, putting up a respectable 291/331/447 while finishing third behind Rafael Furcal and Rick Ankiel (but ahead of Pat Burrell, Lance Berkman, and Juan Pierre) in the 2000 Rookie of the Year Award voting.

After a pedestrian 255/298/371 showing in 104 games in 2001 and a solid 284/336/415 showing in 87 games in 2002, Payton was dealt to Colorado with Robert Stratton and Mark Corey for Mark Little and John Thompson.  Payton put up a monster 335/376/606 for the rest of the year, taking advantage of pre-humidor Coors Field to the fullest.  In 2003, Payton put up another monster season, hitting 302/354/512, though he did lead the NL by grounding into 27 double plays, just one behind major league leader Paul Konerko (who was, incidentally, drafted with the 13th pick of the 1994 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers).  After the 2003 season, Payton signed a two-year contract with the San Diego Padres for $5.5 million (with a $4 million club option on the 2006 season with a $500,000 buy-out).

From 2004 through 2008, Payton appeared in 667 games with 2368 Plate Appearances, putting up a roughly league average 267/310/393 slash line (85 OPS+) while transitioning from being a CF to a LF.  In March of 2009, Payton suffered a shoulder injury while lifting weights and missed the entire season.  In January 2010, Payton signed a minor league contract with the Colorado Rockies, and put up a 323/365/469 slash line while primarily playing left field for the Rockies’ AAA affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.  Called up to the Rockies in September, Payton made up for lost time, mashing a 343/361/514 line in 36 PA.    Faced with another off season shoulder surgery, Payton announced his retirement.

But what happened to Jay Payton?  Why was he unable to reach his potential?  It’s easy to say that injuries curtailed his career before it really got started or that he just wasn’t THAT talented.  I think it’s a combination of the two.  No one ever saw Payton as a future hall of famer, but it would not have been a stretch to see Payton hit 300 for a decade while playing a good center field.  It seems that the key to reaching potential is to avoid injuries, something that may involve more than a little luck.

Until next time, leave comments and follow me @HypeProspect.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.com (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/paytoja01.shtml, http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=payton001jas, etc.)

http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2009/04/crasnick-on-remaining-free-agents.html

http://www.topix.com/forum/baseball-players/jay-payton/T6MUMML3RNFN12RVC

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