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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
Top 40 Prospects: A Year in Review
Aaron examines the fates of last year’s top minor leaguers.
Politics has pre-election polls. College football and basketball have their pre-season top 25 rankings and their pre-season All-American teams. Meteorologists have 7-day forecasts.
And baseball has “top prospect” lists.
Every year, before the season starts, lists full of names of 20 year-old guys playing in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Cedar Rapids, Iowa come out. The makers of the lists try to predict which of the thousands of minor league baseball players across the country (and even in Canada) will have the most future success. As Miss Cleo will tell you, predicting stuff can be a tough job.
I am a big fan of top prospect lists, so I thought it would be fun to take a look back at various lists from the beginning of the 2002 season and see how the rankings look a season later.
For the purposes of this completely unscientific study, I looked at 6 sources:
Two annual publications:
John Sickels? 2002 Minor League Scouting Handbook:
Published by STATS Inc., this book is billed as “The authoritative prospect report” and it certainly is. Sickels, also an ESPN.com writer, takes a look at every player in the minor leagues that is worth looking at. He provides the players? stats from prior seasons, a paragraph or two of his own personal commentary on the player and an overall “grade” for each player.
Baseball Prospectus 2002:
Prospectus is (in my opinion) the best of the baseball annuals. It contains info on both major league and minor league players from each team, along with translated stats, according to the level the player played at. Prospectus writer Rany Jazayerli (of Rob & Rany fame) also provides his own “Top 40 Prospects” list, along with stats and comments for each player.
Two web sites:
This website, run by Chris Reed, is described as “Your source for prospect analysis and information” and is a tremendous source for all things prospect related. The site has reports on the farm system of each team, including scouting reports on the top players. It has position rankings for the entire minor leagues. It has projected “peak” stats for all of the top prospects. And, most importantly for the purpose of this article, it has its own ranking of the top prospects prior to the 2002 season.
This site is another great online resource for prospect related information. The site currently features a lot of good material on the players involved in this year?s Arizona Fall League. And during the season, the site does exactly what its name would have you believe; it alerts you to the performances of baseball?s top prospects. Oh, and it also includes a pre-2002 season ranking of the top prospects in baseball.
Two weekly (or bi-weekly) print publications:
BA is the ultimate source for minor league, college, high school, foreign leagues and major league baseball info. The main subject that BA deals with is minor league prospects. In every issue there are scouting reports, stats, interviews and stories about tons of the top minor league players. And rankings, my God, do they have rankings! It seems like every issue has a whole new set of rankings, whether they are the top prospects in each minor league or the top players at every age group, from 12-24, in the country. One of their many rankings was their top prospects prior to this season.
The Sporting News:
The Sporting News is the only source of rankings that I looked at that is not completely devoted to baseball as TSN covers pretty much every sport out there. Within their baseball coverage however, they did come out with their very own list of top prospects.
Okay, so now everyone has been introduced to the makers of the prospect rankings that I looked at.
Before I get to the players, I just want to let everyone know how I did this.
I found the prospect rankings for each of the 6 sources I mentioned and focused on their top 40 players. Then, I took the average ranking that each player received from the 6 sources and came up with a new, cumulative top 40 list. For example, if a player was ranked 1st by Sickels and Baseball America, 3rd by prospectreport.com, 4th by topprospectalert.com and The Sporting News and 8th by Baseball Prospectus, their average ranking would be 3.5. For the sake of simplicity, if a player did not appear on one of the top 40 lists, he was given a ranking of 50 for that source.
Simple enough, right?
Let?s see how the 2002 season treated our top 40?
#40 Casey Kotchman 1B Age: 19 Bats: Left Angels
Kotchman was the 13th pick in the 2001 draft out of a Florida high school. His professional debut was cut extremely short last season because he suffered a wrist injury while sliding into home during a game, which ended his season after only a few dozen at-bats.
This season, Kotchman did manage to get nearly 300 at-bats, but the injury bug bit him again as he missed almost 2 months with another wrist injury and it is very likely his performance before going on the DL was negatively affected by the injury for some time as well.
Lack of playing time and injuries aside, Kotchman had a very promising 2002. He showed tremendous plate discipline, walking 48 times while striking out only 37 and his great doubles power is an extremely encouraging sign of home run power to come. The batting average (.281) is not quite at the level many expected, but that might have been partially because of his wrist problems
The skills are all there - average, power, plate discipline and even a very good glove at first base.
At this point he just needs to stay healthy enough to put together 500 at-bats without a major injury.
#39 Corwin Malone SP Age: 22 Throws: Left White Sox
Corwin Malone had a “breakout” season in 2001, breezing through 3 different minor league levels within the Chicago system.
The number one reason for his success in 2001, improved control, completely abandoned him in 2002.
This year, Malone walked as many as he struck out (6.5/9 IP).
Looking at his minor league career, his 2001 jumps out, sort of like the answer to one of those “Which one of these doesn?t belong” questions on the SAT.
7.4 BB/9 IP in 2000.
3.7 BB/9 IP in 2001.
6.5 BB/9 IP in 2002.
Along with walking people in bunches in 2002, Malone?s strikeout rate, which had always been exceptional, dropped almost 3 per 9 innings.
Malone is still a very promising, young left hander, but the combination of a drop in strikeouts and a return of walks is not a good sign for the future. At this point, his 2001 sticks out like a sore thumb.
Stock: Way Down
#38 Brandon Claussen SP Age: 23 Throws: Left Yankees
Claussen is pretty much Major League ready and has not been traded from the Yankees yet, which means they like him a whole lot.
That?s the good news. The bad news is that he underwent Tommy John surgery in June and might miss the entire 2003 season.
Before the surgery, his 2002 performance was down a bit from his great 2001. He dropped over 3 strikeouts per 9 innings and he was walking quite a few more batters. It is likely that the elbow problems, along with the upgrade in competition, had a lot to do with his performance dropoff. Before the injury, Claussen was on the fast track to the Major Leagues and looked like a good bet to be one of the better left handed starters in the league. After the injury? Well, time will have to tell and that time probably won?t be until 2004.
Stock: Way Down
#37 Josh Phelps C/1B/DH Age: 24 Bats: Right Blue Jays
Phelps? defense behind the plate has always been suspect, but there is no denying his ability to hit. After tearing up the International League for 250 at-bats, the Blue Jays decided to call Phelps up and just let him worry about hitting, putting him at DH full-time.
And hit he did.
Phelps whacked 36 extra-base hits in 265 Major League at-bats. The only downside to Phelps? 2002 is the lack of the plate discipline that he showed in 2001. In 486 at-bats last year, Phelps had an 80/127 BB/K ratio. This year, between Triple-A and the Majors, he totaled 522 at-bats and a 51/165 BB/K ratio.
So, in about 40 more at-bats, he had about 30 fewer walks and 40 more strikeouts. His 2002 and 2000 plate discipline (or lack of) suggests that the 80 walks in 2001 was probably a slight fluke.
As long as he keeps his average near .300 and the extra-base hits keep coming in bunches, the lack of walks will not be a major concern, especially because he is in one of the best organizations in baseball for someone that needs to improve his plate discipline.
All Phelps? 2002 did was show that he can officially hit at every single level. Phelps is in the Majors for good and the Jays have themselves a DH for the next decade or so.
Stock: Way Up
#36 Rafael Soriano SP Age: 23 Throws: Right Mariners
Rafael Soriano looked like a pretty good bet to make the Mariners out of spring training in 2002, but, for whatever reason, he couldn?t get out of the Dominican Republic after having what the team called “Visa Problems.” As a result, he missed almost the entire first month of Mariners camp and was among the first cuts once he finally arrived. The whole situation would have been a little more understandable if Soriano, like so many other players this year, was found to have been older than his actual age. That was not the case however, as once Soriano was finally able to travel to the United States, his age stayed exactly the same.
On the field, Soriano had a very nice season. He started the year at Double-A San Antonio, where he pitched very well, and was called up to the Mariners when Jeff Nelson went on the DL in early May. He made 8 starts and appeared twice in relief for the M?s, going 0-3 with some decent rate stats. Then, he went on the DL in early July with a “strained right shoulder” and did not pitch for the Mariners again.
Soriano?s performance in his ML debut was decent enough and his pitching before being called up was excellent. He continued to have a strikeout rate of around 10/9 IP and maintained pretty decent control for the second straight season.
Assuming he is completely healthy, Soriano is basically ready for the Major Leagues, although the Mariners may choose to start him in the minors in 2003.
#35 Kelly Johnson SS Age: 20 Bats: Left Braves
Year LG AB AVG OBP SLG HR 2B 3B BB SO SB CS 2000 R 193 .269 .349 .425 4 12 3 24 45 6 1 2001 A 415 .289 .404 .513 23 22 1 71 111 25 6 2002 A+ 482 .255 .325 .394 12 21 5 51 105 12 15
Kelly Johnson?s path to stardom took a little detour in 2002. After a great 2001 that saw him hit for average and power with great plate discipline, especially for a 19 year old, he regressed terribly in 2002 in all three areas.
His batting average dropped 35 points, his home run total was cut in half and he walked 20 less times, despite getting almost 70 more at-bats this year.
Bad 2002 and all, Johnson is still very young and very talented. He has a strong arm but may eventually have to be shifted from shortstop to third base. While his batting average was horrible in 2002, his plate discipline remained more than acceptable and his power remained. The sudden loss of base stealing ability is also a concern.
Johnson is certainly not the prospect he was after last season. Now, instead of actual performance, age and potential are his biggest assets.
Stock: Way Down
#34 Gabe Gross OF Age: 23 Bats: Left Blue Jays
Oh what a difference a year makes.
Gross was the Blue Jays? #1 pick in the 2001 draft and did extremely well in his pro debut last season.
2002 started with an 8-72 slump that he never really recovered from. His batting average remained below .200 for the better part of the year and it wasn?t until a late surge that it started crawling back to respectability. Unfortunately for Gross, his late hot streak was cut short when he went down with an ankle injury.
Aside from the low batting average, everything else was at least decent for Gross in 2002. He continued to show strong plate discipline, posting 53 walks to go along with 73 strikeouts in just over 400 at-bats.
Gross hit for acceptable power, stole a few bases and continued to show good defense in the outfield.
Certainly a disappointing season, but far from a complete collapse.
Gross is healthy and will probably start 2003 at Triple-A, where he needs to start hitting like 2001.
Stock: Way Down
#33 Jon Rauch SP Age: 24 Throws: Right White Sox
Jon Rauch was one of the top prospects in baseball after a wonderful 2000 season in which he went 16-4 between Single and Double-A. He did all the things you look for in a young pitcher - struck out a ton of hitters (10.9/9 IP), didn?t walk very many (2.7/9 IP) and kept the ball in the ballpark (14 HRs in 166 IP).
After starting 2001 at Triple-A, Rauch was shut down early after complaining of some shoulder problems. It turned out to be very serious and required surgery, which ended his season. As with any pitcher who suffers a season ending arm/shoulder injury, what to expect the next season is never easy to figure out.
Because of that, Rauch?s 2002 season has to be considered a success. While his strikeouts, walks and homers allowed were not as good as they were back in 2000, they were good enough to show that he is on his way back, although he may never completely be back to the pitcher he was. Many pitchers perform better in their second season after a major arm surgery, which makes Rauch?s 2002 season look even better.
Look for him to start the year with the White Sox and look for that 8.0 K rate in 2002 to start creeping back up to his 2000 level.
#32 Jose Reyes SS Age: 19 Bats: Switch Mets
Jose Reyes probably jumped further up the top prospect charts than anyone else did in 2002. He followed up his breakout 2001 with an even better 2002 and solidified himself as one of the best middle infield prospects in baseball, all at the tender age of 19.
Reyes hit for a very good average, showed great extra-base power and stole 58 bases in 2002. He even improved his plate discipline from horrible to almost-passable, drawing 46 walks combined between A and AA.
Any 19-year old shortstop that has already played significant time at Double-A and totaled 53 extra-base hits and 58 steals in a season is officially a super prospect. Add in the fact that he is a switch hitter and a solid defensive player and you have a future star.
Expect Reyes to start the year at either AA or AAA in 2003 and end up with the Mets before the season is over. Also, expect to be hearing about Reyes for about the next 15 years.
Stock: Way Up
#31 Josh Hamilton OF Age: 21 Bats: Left Devil Rays
Hamilton can?t quite get this whole thing off the ground. Injuries have now wrecked large parts of two seasons for this former #1 pick and are primarily responsible for those ugly numbers you see listed for 2001.
Hamilton has all the tools and is a relative rarity among toolsy high school picks in that he has actually played pretty well at various times. But those injuries will kill you and they are sapping Hamilton of his number one asset, youth. Instead of moving his way up the D-Rays system gradually and perhaps being as far as AAA in 2002, Hamilton has simply been unable to stay on the field long enough to “conquer” a level and move on to the next. He struggled badly after his promotion to Double-A in 2001 and was sent back down to Single-A this season. While he hit very well there, he was only able to get 211 at-bats in before going down with shoulder and elbow injuries that required surgery.
Hamilton is still a very good prospect; he has all the tools and, when healthy, he has performed very well.
At some point though, he is going to have to stay on the field long enough to be promoted all the way to the majors and, the way he is going, that might take a while.
#30 Chin-Feng Chen OF Age: 25 Bats: Right Dodgers
The Dodgers signed Chen in 1999 and he immediately made a huge splash on the prospect scene by hitting .316/.404/.580 with 31 homers, 22 doubles, 10 triples and 31 steals in his first minor league season.
The Dodgers promoted him to Double-A in 2000 and he struggled big time, hitting only 6 homers in 516 at-bats. The poor performance can probably be attributed to a shoulder injury that didn?t come to everyone?s attention until after the season.
Chen started 2001 back at Single-A and, although he didn?t do very well there, was promoted to Double-A, where he tore the cover off the ball.
This season was a bit of a mixed bag for Chen. He showed the good power that made him a top prospect and his batting average was fine. Unfortunately, his plate discipline dropped off significantly, as he walked less and struck out more than he had in previous years. His work on the basepaths became non-existent.
Chen had a very nice 2002 for sure, but it is not on the same level as his 1999 debut or the second half of his 2001.
#29 Hee Seop Choi 1B Age: 23 Bats: Left Cubs
Choi?s bad 2001 was a result of a nagging hand injury and his great 2002 pretty much confirmed that.
Playing at Triple-A Iowa, Choi showed phenomenal plate discipline, drawing 95 walks, and flashed great power, smacking 26 homers and 24 doubles in under 500 at-bats. He also maintained a solid batting average (.287) and kept hit strikeouts at a reasonable level for a power hitter.
Choi looks like the real deal and he hits like the real deal, and the Cubs are expected to make him their starting first baseman in 2003.
#28 Angel Berroa SS Age: 24 Bats: Right Royals
Perhaps the most significant development during 2002 for Angel Berroa, more than anything he did on the field, was his age. Berroa was one of many players involved in “AgeGate” and aged 2 entire years, going from a 22-year old prospect that has been young for every level he has been at to?well, a 24-year old shortstop whose minor league credentials suddenly don?t look so hot.
He started the season at Triple-A, but was only able to play for a week before injuring his knee and needing arthroscopic surgery to repair it. After missing 6 weeks, Berroa returned to the field and suddenly forgot how to hit. His 2nd half batting average was under .200 and he hit only .227 in his September call up with the Royals.
Berroa still has some skills. He is a good defensive shortstop and has shown hitting ability in the past.
But anytime you combine aging two years and hitting .215 into one minor league season, your star isn?t going to be quite as bright as it was before.
Angel is no longer young and apparently no longer a very good hitter. He can, of course, change the latter of those problems, but the amount of time he has to do so is shrinking.
Stock: Way Down
#27 Joe Mauer C Age: 19 Bats: Left Twins
The #1 pick in the 2001 draft and the crown jewel of the Minnesota minor league system, Joe Mauer is showing every skill, except power.
He followed up his .400 hitting professional debut with a solid .302 average this season. The most impressive part of Mauer?s offensive game is his tremendous walk/strikeout ratio. In his minor league career Mauer has walked 80 times, while striking out only 52.
On defense, Mauer is generally considered a very good catcher that is still a little “raw.” He has great size (6?4”) and mobility and he has an excellent arm.
So, the only thing stopping Mauer from being the total prospect package at the age of 19 is the power.
Despite hitting .400 in 2001, his extra-base hit total was low and his slugging % was less than 100 points more than his batting average.
His 2002 numbers are almost identical to his 2001 stats, except they are short about 100 points of batting average.
In 2001 he hit .400 with a .492 OBP and a .491 SLG.
In 2002 he hit .302 with a .393 OBP and a .392 SLG.
Those numbers are pretty close to identical, except all the 4?s in 2001 became 3?s this year.
Mauer showed very good power throughout his high school career and he has the big frame that would suggest future power development. That said, the amount of doubles he hit this year, which is usually a good indicator of future home run power for someone in the low minor leagues, was not exceptional.
If he adds power to his resume in 2003, look out. His 2002 season certainly did nothing to diminish his prospect status and if anything it established that he can hit over the course of a full season, which his .400 average in only 110 at-bats in 2001 did not.
#26 Justin Morneau 1B Age: 21 Bats: Left Twins
Originally a catcher, Morneau was switched to first base in the hopes that his full offensive potential would appear after not having to worry about catching duties.
He hit extremely well during his stint at Single-A Quad City in 2001, but since then, Morneau?s offense has been a bit of a disappointment.
That said, there is a big difference between being disappointing and not being good. Morneau hit for a very good average this season (.298) and showed good power. He continues to have a good K/BB ratio, but does not walk at a great rate, and his defense at first is improving, but still somewhat shaky. Plus, he is still very young, particularly for the level he played at.
Morneau?s 2002 was very promising, even if it doesn?t compare to his even more promising 2000 and first half of 2001. Doug Mientkiewicz can hear the footsteps.
#25 Drew Henson 3B Age: 22 Bats: Right Yankees
Drew Henson has been one of the most talked about prospects in baseball for years now, partly because of his former job as the quarterback of the University of Michigan and partly because of his current job as the future third baseman of the New York Yankees.
At some point, for Henson to live up to the hype, he is going to have to start hitting, and right now that looks pretty far from happening. Henson has always shown great power potential, but he has absolutely zero plate discipline and has a very tough time making his bat meet the baseball.
In his minor league career, he has 434 strikeouts and only 104 walks. That ratio is dreadful enough on its own, but it gets even worse when you only consider his numbers at Triple-A. In 199 career Triple-A games Drew Henson has 236 strikeouts and 47 walks. In those same 199 games, he has a .233 batting average and only 29 home runs.
So, in addition to a terrible batting average, he’s striking out a ton and not walking at all and even his power, which is supposed to be his best asset, has not been anything special.
Henson is not particularly young anymore and he can no longer use the excuse that he hasn?t played that much professional baseball, as he has now totaled 368 career minor league games. The Yankees called Henson up for a cup of coffee this September (he struck out in his only at bat) and there have been talks of him becoming the third baseman as early as next season.
I don?t think the Yankees would be stupid enough to do that, but if they do, they are going to have a huge problem at the hot corner. Henson?s Major League Equivalency (MLE) for this year was an absolutely putrid .223/.280/.403 and even his defense gets mixed reviews.
Henson still has the necessary abilities to make good on the hype, but if he doesn?t do it soon he is going to be one colossal bust. The only positives coming from his 2002 season are that he stayed healthy and he hit for decent power. Other than that, Henson just continued to show that he has some massive flaws.
Stock: Way Down
#24 Boof Bonser SP Age: 21 Throws: Right Giants
The man with the great name and the large frame had himself a very nice 2002 season. His strikeout rate dropped from jaw dropping to just great, but that was probably to be expected a little bit as he moved up to a higher level.
The strikeout rate is still pretty damn good and everything else looks nice too. Bonser only gave up 9 homers in 130 California League innings and his walk rate didn?t skyrocket after the bump up in competition from 2001.
He still has some work to do in regard to his control, but most 21-year old fireballers do.
#23 Brandon Phillips SS/2B Age: 21 Bats: Right Indians
Phillips was traded from Montreal to Cleveland in the Bartolo Colon deal. He came into the season as one of the top shortstop prospects in baseball and his performance in 2002 did nothing to change that.
Well, he didn?t do anything to change that, but the Indians did. After acquiring Phillips, Cleveland decided to have him split time between shortstop and second base in the minors and during his September call up with the Tribe, Phillips played exclusively at second base.
So, while his hitting was very good in 2002, he has now gone from one of the top shortstop prospects to one of the top middle infield prospects. It is a minor distinction, but certainly significant. Phillips? defense at shortstop is definitely more than passable, so it appears as though the sole reason for his move to second base is Omar Vizquel. Whether you think Omar Vizquel is still a great defensive shortstop or not, or even if you think he never was a great defensive shortstop, it has to be fairly obvious that he will not be a great defensive shortstop by the time Cleveland is ready to seriously compete again.
Phillips? hitting has always been good, although his plate discipline is highly erratic. He drew 38 walks in almost 500 Single-A at-bats in 2000 and then drew the same exact amount (38) in only 194 Single-A at-bats the next year. He was then promoted to Double-A, where he only drew 12 walks in 265 at-bats.
This season Phillips was back to his hacktastic ways, walking only 35 times in over 500 at-bats, which makes it seem like his heavy walking stint at Single-A in 2001 was just a fluke.
Mediocre plate discipline aside, Phillips looks like a nice hitter. He hit for good power at both AA and AAA this year and after hitting .327 at Double-A, he was able to maintain a relatively high batting average after his promotion to Triple-A.
The drop in stolen bases is a little concerning, especially because he was pretty successful on the bases before this year. Phillips was 23/31 in steals during the 2000 season and 30/39 in 2001. This year, he only stole 14 bags. Speedy middle infielders with good power have been known to lose a little speed on the basepaths as they advance up the minor leagues and I suspect that is a possibility with Phillips.
As long as he keeps hitting like he did in 2002, no one will notice the declining speed.
He was a top shortstop prospect coming into this season and he is a top middle infield prospect after this season. Now, if the Indians would just switch him back to shortstop, everything would be back to normal again.
#22 Jerome Williams SP Age: 21 Throws: Right Giants
Williams had a big drop-off in strikeouts in 2001, but he managed to get his K rate back up quite a bit this season. Even with the increase, his strikeouts don?t match his stuff, which is more overpowering than 7.3 Ks/9 IP would indicate.
Other than the good-but-not-great K rate, Williams? other stats are very promising. His walk rate is consistently good, he didn?t allow a ton of homers and his work load has been fairly reasonable over his career.
At some point, if Williams? strikeout rate doesn?t catch up to his “stuff,” he is going to have to settle for being good/great and not incredible. His 2002 was a very nice season for a 21 year-old at Triple-A and he is probably ready for a job with the Giants.
#21 Marlon Byrd OF Age: 25 Bats: Right Phillies
Marlon Byrd continued to do what he has done his entire minor league career in 2002, which is hit. Byrd was drafted in the 10th round by the Phillies in 1999 and since then he has spent an entire season at every single level of the Philadelphia system. He played rookie-ball in 1999 after being drafted, moved to Single-A in 2000, Double-A in 2001 and Triple-A this year. He never played at more than 1 minor league level in a season.
That approach is certainly not a horrible one and is definitely better than rushing a player when he isn?t ready. But Marlon Byrd has been ready and with Doug Glanville patrolling CF for the Phillies the last several years, it isn?t like they couldn?t have used Byrd.
So, now he is 25 years old already and has just now had a cup of coffee in the Majors.
Byrd?s plate discipline continued at its normal level in 2002, he has pretty much been a 50 walk/100 strikeout guy. His batting average continued to hover around .300 and the power remained pretty much the same, although a few of his homers in 2001 turned into doubles in 2002.
The one area that was not consistent with the rest of his career was Byrd?s work on the base paths.
He continued to be an excellent base thief, but his stolen base totals have dropped from 41 in 2000 to 32 in 2001 and only 15 this year. Any guy that goes 15/16 after going 73/83 the two previous years obviously still has the ability to steal bases and it is possible that Byrd just decided not to focus on that this year.
It looks like the Phillies will make Byrd the every day center fielder in 2002 and his 2002, just like his 2001 and 2000, is a pretty good sign that he is ready for the job.
#20 Ryan Anderson SP Age: 22 Throws: Left Mariners
Well, this just doesn?t look like it?s gonna happen, does it? For the second straight year, Ryan Anderson missed the entire season with a severe shoulder injury. Missing two entire seasons is bad enough on a developmental level, but missing them because of injuries to your shoulder is about as bad as it gets for a young pitching prospect.
That said, Anderson is still very young and that?s always a big key.
Odds are that he will probably never be the pitcher many people thought he would be a few years ago (he?s nicknamed “Little Unit” because of his likeness to Randy Johnson, not?well you know), but he is still 6?10”, he still (presumably) throws hard and if he can find a way to stay healthy for a relatively long period of time he can work at getting some semblance of control back and possibly make it to the big leagues within the next year or two.
Those are some pretty big ifs for a guy who hasn?t pitched in about 700 days, but with a talent this great, you can?t give up completely. Anderson is yet another reminder about the cost of pitching injuries, especially when they rob of us of the chance to see what someone like Anderson can do at full strength.
Stock: Way Down
#19 Jack Cust OF/DH Age: 23 Bats: Left Rockies
Cust?s 2002 looks almost identical to his 2001. A dozen points less in batting average, a half dozen points lower in OBP and a matching slugging %.
But, in reality, it was far from identical.
First of all, he was repeating the same level, which is always significant. Secondly, he was doing it in the best park for hitters in minor league baseball. Cust played his games at Colorado Springs in 2002, which is the next best thing to playing your games at Coors Field (which Cust eventually did too).
His MLE for his Triple-A performance in 2002 is .252/.363/.491, which is certainly a pretty good stat line for a 23 year-old. However, they are not the kind of numbers that most people had in mind for Cust a year or two ago.
He is still a good prospect, but the batting average is falling rapidly, despite playing a hitter?s park.
His walk totals are still excellent and the good power is still there, but if he struggles to hit .250, and it looks as though he will, it is going to be very difficult for him to be a great hitter.
That said, if Cust gets a full-time job playing somewhere (left field?) for the Colorado Rockies, he almost can?t help but put up nice numbers.
#18 Chris Snelling OF Age: 21 Bats: Left Mariners
Snelling was signed by the Mariners in 1999 out of Australia. The young Aussie put together batting averages of .306, .305, .336 and .326, and an OBP nearing .400 at all 4 of his career minor league stops, before being called up to the Mariners this year.
Here is a quote from John Sickels on Snelling, before this season:
“Snelling tends to get hurt a lot, a by-product of his energy on the field.”
Now that I think about it, I?ve never seen John Sickels and Miss Cleo in the same place at the same time.
In his 8th game with the Mariners, Snelling put the brakes on while rounding third base, tore his ACL and wound up being out for the rest of the season. He had already been injured once in 2002 before the ACL when he fractured his thumb while making a diving catch in the outfield in late March.
So, unluckily for Snelling and Mariners fans, Sickels was about as right as he could have been, as Snelling had two injuries in 2002. One of them was very serious and both of them occurred on a play that could definitely be described as a “product of his energy on the field.”
Before the injury, Snelling was putting up his typical numbers - .300 batting average, .400 on-base % and a slugging % hovering around .500. Snelling isn?t much of a home run hitter, but he shows good extra-base power overall, has great plate discipline and is a good defender in the outfield.
A torn ACL is a very tough injury to come back from, particularly for a guy that bases his game on hustle.
But, if anyone can make a full recovery, it is Chris Snelling.
#17 Carlos Hernandez SP Age: 22 Throws: Left Astros
Hernandez had his Major League debut with the Astros last year, after a very solid 2001 at Double-A, and impressed, making 3 starts with a 1.02 ERA. The Astros didn?t find his base running skills quite as impressive when he hurt his rotator cuff sliding into third base. Hernandez made a semi-full recovery by spring training and made the Astros as the #5 starter. He took his turn in the rotation for the first couple months and then had to be skipped because of a sore left shoulder (the same one he injured). After missing two starts, Hernandez came back and gave up 6 runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Reds on July 1st and was put on the DL immediately after.
Carlos missed a month and, after a rehab stint, was reinstated into the Houston rotation. After 6 more starts, Hernandez?s shoulder started acting up again and he did the thing that all pitchers have nightmares about, he had a visit with Dr. James Andrews (insert scary music). Luckily for Hernandez, Dr. Andrews felt that he did not need surgery and instead opted for a summer full of rehab to repair the “impingement and rotator cuff tendinitis” in his shoulder.
When healthy, Hernandez pitched pretty well for the Astros in 2002, posting a nice K rate and a decent ERA. But, the constant shoulder problems are definitely a huge concern for a guy that said, during spring training, he was “about 80% recovered” from a torn rotator cuff. I am not sure why teams continue to put pitchers coming back from serious injuries into normal pitching usage situations. Even if Hernandez was 100% recovered, would you really want him starting every 5th day coming off of surgery? And, if he and the organization were not confident that he had made a full recovery, he had absolutely no business starting the season in the rotation.
Hopefully the summer will heal Hernandez and it won?t be a problem again, but the Astros certainly made the situation a lot tougher than they had to, and for what? About 100 innings of league average pitching.
#16 Adrian Gonzalez 1B Age: 20 Bats: Left Marlins
Gonzalez was the #1 pick in the 2000 draft and most scouts expected big things from him because of his sweet swing and projectable power. After slugging .358 with a .295 batting average (not very much power) in his pro debut in 2000, Gonzalez took a big jump up in the power department in 2001, hitting 17 homers and 37 doubles at Single-A.
This year, Gonzalez took a bit of a step backward in all aspects, except for power. His batting average dropped almost 50 points from last season and his plate discipline continued to move in the wrong direction, as he walked 54 times and struck out 112. The power numbers were the only constant from his breakout 2001 season, as he hit 17 homers and 34 doubles in 2002.
Gonzalez is still very young and his talent is undeniable, plus his 2002 isn?t really that bad if you don?t compare it to his 2001. If he can get the batting average back up to his 2000 and 2001 levels and keep the power as it is, Gonzalez will be right back on track for stardom.
#15 Nick Neugebauer SP Age: 22 Throws: Right Brewers
Look up “raw pitching prospect” in the dictionary (if such a thing were in the dictionary) and you will see a big picture of Nick Neugebauer, probably along with that freakish stat line at Single-A in 2000 (13.7 Ks, 10.2 BBs, 5.0 Hits).
He?s tall, he?s big, he throws pure gas and, of course, he has some serious control problems.
Neugebauer made great strides in the control department in 2001, cutting back from walking a batter an inning in 2000 to about 4 per 9 innings in 2001. He pitched so well that he was a September call up with the Brewers, at which point he tore his rotator cuff/labrum and needed surgery.
A serious arm injury is tough for any young pitcher to come back from, but it has to be particularly difficult for a guy that had just overcome such massive control problems.
Neugebauer recovered well from his shoulder injury and was deemed ready to pitch in 2002. The Brewers because, well, they are the Brewers, decided that they would stick Neugebauer, fresh off serious shoulder surgery and still trying to get his control straightened out, right into the big league rotation. Neugebauer made 7 starts for the Brewers (throwing 100+ pitches in 3 of them and 90+ in 6) and then was put on the DL with a sore right shoulder on May 15th. He sat out until August, made 3 mediocre rehab assignments and was back in the Majors when rosters expanded in September.
I think the Brewers handled Neugebauer very poorly this season. If you have a guy that has just started to improve on his massive control problems when he goes down with a serious injury, why would you stick him in the Major Leagues, with a total of 24 innings of Triple-A experience, immediately after he recovers from the injury?
It isn?t even an issue of over-working a guy coming off an injury (although that point could be argued) as it is putting an inexperienced pitcher coming off an injury right into the Major Leagues. Neugebauer was probably not a good bet to be Major League ready before the injury and he certainly had no business being there to start 2002 after it.
His 2002 trip to the DL aside, Neugeubauer pitched decently in his baptism by fire. The strikeout rate remained very high, but walked over 7 batters per 9 innings of work.
He is still on the path to a successful career, but I just wish it weren?t with the Brewers.
#14 Jake Peavy SP Age: 21 Throws: Right Padres
A former 15th round pick by the Padres in 1999, Jake Peavy has dominated the competition every stop along the way. He posted K rates of at least 10.0/9 innings at both San Diego Single-A levels and Double-A, before being called up the Majors this season.
His ML debut was very nice, as he struck out over 8 batters per 9 innings, didn?t walk very many and kept his ERA in the mid-4.00s. The only real troubling part of his rookie season was the 11 homers he served up in less than 100 innings. Peavy has a very good minor league record for keeping balls in the ballpark, so I wouldn?t be too worried about it.
Peavy is pretty much big league ready and should step into the Pads? rotation full-time in 2003.
#13 Michael Cuddyer 3B/OF Age: 23 Bats: Right Twins
If Joe Mauer is the crown jewel of the Minnesota system, Michael Cuddyer is?well, whatever the next best thing to a crown jewel is.
Originally drafted as a shortstop, Cuddyer was quickly shifted to third base. He struggled at times there and now appears to have a slightly better chance of being a major league outfielder than he does a third baseman. More importantly, as his 2002 performance shows, wherever the Twins stick him in the field, he will hit.
Cuddyer dominated the Pacific Coast League for the first half of 2002, slugging 20 homers and 16 doubles in only 330 at-bats. The Twins called him up in the middle of July and he played somewhat sporadically until about a week and a half before the end of the regular season. It was at that point that Twins? manager Ron Gardenhire decided he wanted Cuddyer as his everyday right fielder in the playoffs, so he gave him playing time every day in the last 10 games or so to prepare.
The consistent playing time helped a lot and Cuddyer saw his batting average go from .198 to .259 in only 12 games. His OBP jumped up almost 60 points and his slugging % did the same. Whether that is a coincidence or not I have no idea, but I would guess that pinch hitting and spot starting is not the greatest way to break your top hitting prospect into the major leagues full-time.
So, Gardenhire?s plan to make him the everyday RF seemed to work. Of course, after a few playoff games and some not-so-great routes to fly balls in RF against the A?s, Cuddyer ceased being the everyday RF in the playoffs and didn?t get an at bat in any of the final 3 games against Anaheim.
Cuddyer is ready to play everyday. His MLE for his Triple-A time this year was .291/.356/.525 which would immediately make him the best hitter on the Twins.
After a bad 2000 and a good 2001, Cuddyer?s performance this season proved he is for real. He is ready to hit at the major league level and the Twins can certainly use his right handed power in their lefty dominated lineup.
#12 Joe Borchard OF Age: 24 Bats: Switch White Sox
What?s not to like about Joe Borchard? He?s athletic (he played QB at Stanford), big, switch-hits, can play center field and hit for power. He even walks a little bit.
The only flaw in his game is the strikeouts, but they aren?t a huge, Russell Branyan type problem or anything like that.
Borchard had himself a pretty nice 2002 season. The batting average dropped about 20 points, but the power was actually up a little bit from last year, as his slugging % only dropped about 10 points. He continued to walk at a decent rate and despite moving up to a higher level, his strikeouts didn?t skyrocket.
His defense in CF is decent, although he may end up as a corner outfielder for the ChiSox.
#11 Wilson Betemit SS Age: 21 Bats: Switch Braves
Betemit was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1996 and burst onto the scene with his strong 2000 performance. He started 2001 at Single-A, did reasonably well and was promoted to Double-A where he hit .355 with good power.
His 2002 was a pretty big step back. He only hit .245 and totaled only 26 extra-base hits in almost 350 at-bats. His walk rate was decent, but he struck out 82 times, an average of 1 every 4.2 ABs. Betemit also made 21 errors in only 92 games at shortstop and may eventually have to be moved, most likely to third base.
Wilson is still very young, but this season was a gigantic step back in almost every facet of his game and the expectations on him coming into this season were probably a little unrealistic, to say the least.
Stock: Way Down
#10 Mark Teixeira 3B Age: 22 Bats: Switch Rangers
This guy is a hitter. Going into his senior year at Georgia Tech, Teixeira was considered the best player in college baseball and a likely #1 or #2 pick in the draft. A broken ankle and a considerable amount of missed time dropped his draft stock to the point that he was available for the Texas Rangers to happily snatch up with the 5th pick in the draft.
He signed too late to play in 2001 and had some arm problems early in 2002, but once on the field, he picked up right where he left off, crushing baseballs.
Teixeira has the total hitting package - big, strong and a switch hitter. He hits for a high average (.318 combined at A and AA), he hits for huge power (19 HRs and 21 doubles in only 321 ABs) and he has terrific plate discipline (46 walks and 60 strikeouts). His defense at third base is less than great, but he should be able to handle the position and, if all else fails, his bat can certainly handle first base or designated hitter.
Teixeira is ready for the big leagues right now. The Rangers might give him a few months at Triple-A in 2003 just to make sure, but expect to see him batting behind Alex Rodriguez in Arlington very soon.
Stock: Way Up
#9 Dennis Tankersley SP Age: 23 Throws: Right Padres
As I sure most of you know by now, Tankersley was stolen from the Boston Red Sox for Ed Sprague in 2000. I am not exactly sure how the Padres got him for Ed Sprague, considering he put up an 0.76 ERA with a 57/9 K/BB ratio in 36 rookie league innings for the Sox in 1999. But, that?s old news now and I?ll let Red Sox fans ponder that trade.
Tankersley posted great strikeout numbers and decent walk rates throughout the minors, including stints at Double and Triple-A in 2002, before being called up to the Majors. While looking at his stats for this year, I noticed something that I would call “interesting,” Tankersley pitched 51 innings at each of his 3 stops in 2002.
51 IP at AAA = 9.9 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9.
51 IP at AA = 9.0 K/9 and 5.3 BB/9
51 IP in MLB = 6.9 K/9 and 7.1 BB/9
I?m no math genius, but I think I detect a pattern there.
The control issues are definitely a concern, especially because Tankersley has had pretty low walk rates in other years. Other than that though, the strikeout rates at AA and AAA were good and 6.9 Ks per 9 innings in your rookie year at the Major League level is certainly more than decent. Tankersley is still on track to become a very good pitcher for the Padres.
#8 Austin Kearns OF Age: 22 Bats: Right Reds
Austin Kearns? MLB debut wasn?t quite as impressive as his outfield mate Adam Dunn?s was in 2001, but it was pretty close. Kearns started the year in Triple-A, but was quickly called up to the Reds in April when Sean Casey went down with an injury.
It was supposed to be a temporary stopgap, but Kearns ended up hitting .455 in his 33 April at-bats and he was in the Majors for the time being. He came back down to earth in May, hitting .261/.377/.477, and then slumped horribly in June (.214/.295/.314). There was some talk that a sore right thumb, an injury that was responsible for Kearns? sub-par 2001, was part of the reason for his offensive collapse in June.
Whatever the reason, the Reds sent Kearns down to Triple-A Louisville on June 23rd, but then recalled him 2 days later when Ken Griffey Jr. went on the DL. Apparently the 2 day trip to Louisville did some good, as Kearns hit .333/.418/.478 in July and was hitting .374/.448/.604 in August before going down with a season-ending hamstring injury.
Kearns should be fully healthy for 2003 and is expected to play everyday as the Cincinnati right fielder.
Kearns has the complete package. He hits for average, tremendous power, draws walks, can steal a base and plays very good defense in right field.
As strange as this sentence would have sounded 5 years ago?the Reds now have 2/3 of their starting outfield in place for the foreseeable future and all they need in order to have one of the best outfields in all of baseball is for Ken Griffey Jr. to step up his game and, more importantly, stay on the field.
Stock: Way Up
#7 Juan Cruz SP Age: 24 Throws: Right Cubs
Juan Cruz had a very unique 2002 season, one that saw him pitch much better than his record would indicate and worse than his ERA.
Cruz started the year in the Cubs? rotation and after 8 starts, he was 0-7. Shortly after that, he was yanked from the rotation and put into a middle-relief role for the rest of the season.
He pitched much better as a reliever, upping his strikeouts and cutting way down on his walks allowed.
Here are his start/relieve splits for 2002:
45.2 IP 51.2 IP
6.0 K/9 8.7 K/9
6.0 BB/9 4.8 BB/9
3.75 ERA 4.18 ERA
5.87 RAA* 4.50 RAA
*RAA = All runs allowed, including unearned.
As you can see, Cruz had some bad luck as a starter, including 11 unearned runs in 45 innings pitched.
But, he didn?t pitch all that well either. As a reliever, he was a different pitcher. His strikeout rate jumped up almost 3 per 9 innings and his walks moved towards respectability.
Overall, Cruz?s 2002 wasn?t too bad, especially if you forget about the 0-7 start. He pitched well after being moved to the pen and had a 2.32 second half ERA.
#6 Nick Johnson 1B Age: 24 Bats: Left Yankees
Nick Johnson?s 1999 stat line at Double-A is a Billy Beane wet dream. He hit .345, slugged 52 extra base hits, drew a massive amount of walks and got plunked pretty frequently. All that added up to a OBP in Barry Bonds? territory and a spot as one of the top hitting prospects in baseball.
Then Johnson missed all of 2000 with a mysterious wrist injury. A year of lost development time is crucial and when Johnson came back in 2001 he was not the same hitter, whether from rust of something more significant.
His 2001 performance dropped him from the ranks of the “sure things” all the way down to one of the top handful of hitting prospects around. He still had an OBP above .400 and some decent power, but the batting average dropped nearly 100 points and he didn?t walk nearly as often. His 2001 numbers at Triple-A suggested a MLE of about .240/.375/.440, which isn?t that far off from what he did this year.
Johnson started the year as a full-time starter on the Yankees, splitting time at DH and 1B with Jason Giambi. He struggle mightily at first, hitting only .214/.327/.345 in April. He gradually improved during the next 3 months, watching his OPS climb from April?s .672 to .740 in May, .806 in J
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