Prospects You’ve Never Heard Of: April Summary

Well, here we are in the middle of May and I’m finally getting around to the April Summary. Before you read any further, you might want to check out my disclaimer and glossary of terms. If you don’t feel like reading them, then just jump right in. Enjoy!


California League

Last         First    Pos  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   PCT   OBP   SLG    OPS   BB/K    iOPS   iBB/K
*Gillespie,  Eric     3B   78  10  26  11   0   3   11  12  16   2  .333  .422  .590  1.012   .750   49.33   72.68

With the emergence of Troy Glaus, Gillespie, the Angels’ 10th round pick out of Cal State Northridge in 1996, has been all but forgotten. He’s old (23) for the Cal League, but his OPS is +49 for the league, and his BB/K is +73. Last year in the Midwest League he mostly played 1B, but also saw time at 3B, SS, and behind the plate. Sickels gave him a C-, which is not terribly inspiring, but keep an eye on what this guy does (and perhaps more importantly, what the Angels do with him) when Glaus gets promoted.

Last         First    Pos  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   PCT   OBP   SLG    OPS   BB/K    iOPS   iBB/K
Piatt,       Adam     3B   85  13  23   8   0   2   17  16  17   3  .271  .386  .435   .821   .941   21.21  116.70

While Gillespie is stuck behind Glaus, Adam Piatt, the A’s 8th round pick out of Mississippi State in 1997, has megaprospect Eric Chavez ahead of him. Piatt is hitting doubles and showing good plate discipline, but he’s 22, again a bit old for the league. Certainly 85 at bats isn’t really enough of a gauge, but on the heels of a fine rookie campaign in the short-season Northwest League, Piatt is another guy worth keeping an eye on.

Last         First     W  L  G  SV    IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO   ERA  K/BB    K/9   H/9    iERA   iK/BB    iK/9   iH/9
Hudson,      Tim       3  0  6   0  28.0  14   8   6  12  36  1.93  3.00  11.57  4.50   46.14   30.36   36.51   46.28
Prokopec,    Luke      2  1  5   0  26.0  15   7   5   8  36  1.73  4.50  12.46  5.19   51.66   95.55   47.02   38.02

Hudson was the Oakland A’s 6th round pick in the 1997 draft, out of Auburn University. He pitched well in his first exposure to pro ball last season at Southern Oregon of the Midwest League. There he started 4 games and relieved in 4 more, allowing 12 hits and 15 walks in 29 innings, while striking out 37. Judging from his IP/G so far this year, I’m guessing they still haven’t committed to making him a full-time starter. The only reason I can see for this is durability concerns — he is only 6’0″, 160 lbs. I know nothing about his repertoire, but in 57 pro innings he’s allowed only 26 hits, which is impressive.

Prokopec is an interesting story. Signed out of Australia in 1995 as an outfielder, he was converted this year to pitcher. He appears to have taken to the mound quite nicely. All the ratios so far are outstanding. He’s only 20 years old and like Hudson, he’s short (6’0″) for a righthander, but this is a great start for a guy pitching pro for the first time — in the California League, no less. I’m really going to be watching this guy.

Carolina League

Last         First    Pos  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   PCT   OBP   SLG    OPS   BB/K    iOPS   iBB/K
*Coffie,     Ivanon   3B   60   7  17   2   0   3   12   9   8   4  .283  .377  .467   .843  1.125   24.89  184.16

Coffie is a 21-year-old from Curacao who has been playing pro ball since 1995. Last year was his first exposure to a full-season league, and he did okay in the SAL. He only hit 3 homers in 305 ABs last year, so whether this increase in power is real is anyone’s guess, but he has pretty good size (6’1′, 170 lbs). He’s a converted shortstop, so presumably he should be a pretty decent third baseman. He’s also showing better plate discipline than in the past. Tony Blengino calls Coffie a future utility player, but if he keeps this up, he could well put himself on the map as a legit prospect. However, he does have Ryan Minor (not to mention Cal Ripken!) in his way.

Florida State League

Last         First     W  L  G  SV    IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO   ERA  K/BB    K/9   H/9    iERA   iK/BB    iK/9   iH/9
Herbison,    Brett     2  1  4   0  22.3  14   6   5   3  19  2.01  6.33   7.66  5.64   48.13  205.67    7.07  38.27
Rutherford,  Mark      3  0  5   0  35.7  23  10   9   6  21  2.27  3.50   5.30  5.80   41.54   68.92  -25.90  36.49

Herbison is in the Mets organization and put up some nice numbers last season in the SAL. He pitched 160 innings at age 20, which is a little worrisome, but he’s got a classic pitchers build at 6’5″, 175 lbs. I really know almost nothing about him, but his stats look like those of a prospect.

Rutherford was the Phillies’ 12th round draft pick in 1997, out of Eastern Michigan University. Last year in the SAL he allowed only 51 baserunners in 58 innings, while striking out 47. He’s gotten off to a good start in 1998 at Clearwater. His control is excellent: in 93.2 pro innings, he’s walked only 15 batters. He is a bit old (23) for the FSL, but if he continues like this I’d imagine he could move up to Reading at some point during the season. If he shows anything there, he might start to garner some attention.

Last         First    Pos  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   PCT   OBP   SLG    OPS   BB/K    iOPS   iBB/K
Meyers,      Chad     2B   80  17  28   5   2   1   13  14  13  12  .350  .447  .500   .947  1.077   32.3   125.96

Meyers was the Cubs’ 5th round pick in 1996, out of Creighton University. He’s a switch hitter who’s shown good plate discipline at every stop so far. Last year at Rockford of the Midwest League he hit .301 with 28 doubles and 74 walks (against 72 strikeouts). He also stole 54 bases in 70 attempts. At 22 years old, this is another guy who probably needs an in-season promotion to get himself noticed. But the way he’s going, that could well happen.


Eastern League

Last         First     W  L  G  SV    IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO   ERA  K/BB    K/9   H/9    iERA   iK/BB    iK/9   iH/9
*Yarnall,    Ed        3  0  3  0   19.7   8   2   1   8  21  0.46  2.63   9.61  3.66   88.22   23.63   23.83  56.78
*Wolf,       Randy     2  0  4  0   25.0  15   4   4   4  33  1.44  8.25  11.88  5.40   62.94  288.56   53.08  36.25

These guys are probably a little too well known to be on this list, but their numbers are so amazing I just had to include them. For the sake of completion, Yarnall was the Mets’ 3rd round pick in the 1996 draft, out of Louisiana State University. He’s 22 years old, 6’4″, 220 lbs, and he’s absolutely shot through the system.

Wolf was the Phillies’ 2nd round pick in 1997, out of Pepperdine. His ascent has been even more meteoric, as just after these 4 starts he was quickly whisked to Scranton Wilkes-Barre, where he has proceeded to dominate International League batters in his first 2 starts.
Okay, now for some guys you may or may not have heard of:

Last         First     W  L  G  SV    IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO   ERA  K/BB    K/9   H/9    iERA   iK/BB    iK/9   iH/9
*Ramsay,     Robert    2  1  4   0  23.0  12   5   5   9  30  1.96  3.33  11.74  4.70   49.65   56.99   51.27  44.57
Sekany,      Jason     2  0  4   0  26.0  14   9   8   4  18  2.77  4.50   6.23  4.85   28.74  111.94  -19.71  42.79
Crawford,    Paxton    2  0  4   0  21.0  12   4   4  11  20  1.71  1.82   8.57  5.14   55.89  -14.37   10.45  39.29
Dempster,    Ryan      2  2  4   0  24.7  15  10   6  11  20  2.19  1.82   7.30  5.47   43.66  -14.37   -5.97  35.39
Lincoln,     Mike      3  0  4   0  23.7  19  10   6   2  17  2.28  8.50   6.46  7.23   41.28  300.33  -16.70  14.70

What’s in the water at Trenton? Ramsay, Sekany, and Crawford all pitch there as members of the Red Sox organization.

Ramsay is old (24) and hasn’t done anything done anything to distinguish himself before this year, so this is probably just a hot streak, but those are mighty impressive numbers and he is a lefty.

Sekany was a 2nd round pick in 1996 out of the University of Virginia. He’s 6’4″, 215 lbs, and according to John Sickels “can overpower people with his fastball and slider. ” His Achilles heel to this point has been his control, but right now that doesn’t seem to be a problem. And he hasn’t sacrificed anything in the area of hit prevention.

Crawford is a 20-year-old who thus far is more than holding his own in Double-A. He’s pointed out pretty highly in Future Stars the past couple years, mainly because he’s been one of the youngest starters in his league and he’s not getting completely pounded. He’s 6’3″, 190 lbs, and Tony Blengino says of him, “He will likely need another High-A season, but could be a special one if he juices up his fastball a notch or two. ” It’s still early yet, but for a guy who was supposed to repeat a level, he’s upped his strikeout ratio while jumping up to Double-A. I like this guy a lot.

Dempster is a 6’2″, 195-lb righthander out of British Columbia. He was part of the deal that sent John Burkett to Texas. Last season in the Florida State League he got pounded but showed good control. He’s another 20-year-old who so far looks pretty good in Double-A. Sickels says “his stuff is average right now…but his control is good, and scouts think he will pick up velocity as he matures. ” Add to that the Leyland factor — Saunders, Meadows, Dempster? — and I like his chances.

Finally, Lincoln is sort of a dark horse. He’s in the Twins organization, drafted in the 13th round in 1996, from the University of Tennessee. He’s always had great control, but at the professional level he’s been somewhat less than dominating, averaging less than 5 K’s per 9 IP for his career. Sickels gives him a C-, but says “Lincoln’s strikeout rate was much higher in college, so there is a chance, albeit an outside one, that he could continue pitching well as he moves up. I won’t really believe in him until that K/IP rate rises, but he does deserve a fair hearing. ” Well, guess what? That K/IP rate is rising, and not at the expense of anything else.

Southern League

Last         First    Pos  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   PCT   OBP   SLG    OPS   BB/K    iOPS   iBB/K
#Matthews,   Gary     OF   76  22  30   6   2   2   25  15  12   5  .395  .495  .605  1.100  1.250   46.56   92.05
*Powers,     John     3B   71  25  27   6   0   2    8  17   8   2  .380  .500  .549  1.049  2.125   39.83  226.48

Matthews is a switch-hitting center fielder in the Padres organization whom I like very much. For more on him, check this out.

John Powers is my favorite player currently in the minor leagues. The Padres’ 21st-round selection out of the University of Arizona in 1996 was drafted as a second baseman, where he played last season at Rancho Cucamonga; this year Powers has been moved to the hot corner. He appeared to have good range at second, as well as a strong arm. Offensively, plate discipline is the switch-hitter’s greatest asset, although he has surprising pop for a little (5’9″, 165 lbs) guy. At age 24, Powers is probably a C-level prospect at best, but he plays the game hard and generally makes things difficult on the opposition any way he can. If he makes it to the big leagues, it will probably be as a utility player, but if he were to somehow land a starting assignment, his career could look a lot like Mark Lemke’s or Jody Reed’s.

Last         First    Pos  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   PCT   OBP   SLG    OPS   BB/K    iOPS   iBB/K
Villalobos,  Carlos   3B   99  21  38   8   0   2   19  11  19   2  .384  .445  .525   .971   .579   29.36  -11.05

Yet another third baseman stuck behind a more highly touted prospect (Gabe Alvarez), Villalobos was acquired last season from the Seattle Mariners organization as part ot the Scott Sanders deal. He’s old (24) — older than Alvarez in fact — but I’ve seen this guy play and he gets his bat through the strike zone in a hurry. He can hit just about anybody’s fastball. He’s probably no more than a bench player, though in the right organization he could pull a Chris Sabo and hold a regular job for a few years.

Last         First    Pos  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   PCT   OBP   SLG    OPS   BB/K    iOPS   iBB/K
*Vaz,        Roberto  OF   72  11  22   5   0   2    6  16   8   2  .306  .432  .458   .890  2.000   18.63  207.27

Geez, what is it with Oakland? How come they get all the good prospects? The Athletics selected Vaz in the 7th round of the 1997 draft out of the University of Alabama. And all the stocky little (5’9″, 195 lbs) lefty swinger has done as a pro is hit, hit, hit! Vaz has terrific plate discipline, runs a little, hits doubles. Reminds me a bit of another stocky little left-handed-hitting outfielder whose name I’ll not invoke for fear of jinxing this kid. Anyway, Vaz looks real good so far.

Last         First     W  L  G  SV    IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO   ERA  K/BB    K/9   H/9    iERA   iK/BB    iK/9   iH/9
Melendez,    Dave      2  0  4   0  24.7  16   3   3  10  20  1.09  2.00   7.30  5.84   74.88   29.89    7.43  34.54
Beirne,      Kevin     3  1  6   0  38.0  31  13  11  17  36  2.61  2.12   8.53  7.34   40.22   37.54   25.52  17.67
Carlyle,     Buddy     2  1  4   0  25.7  21   8   8   3  14  2.81  4.67   4.91  7.36   35.63  203.09  -27.73  17.43
*Haynie,     Jason     2  2  5   0  30.3  26   8   6   8  18  1.78  2.25   5.34  7.71   59.15   46.13  -21.38  13.49
Farnsworth,  Kyle      4  1  6   0  37.0  32  15  12   8  35  2.92  4.38   8.51  7.78   33.02  184.14   25.33  12.71

And you thought Chris Enochs and Bruce Chen were the only pitching prospects in the circuit? Think again.

Melendez was signed by the Tigers as an undrafted free agent out of Puerto Rico in 1996. According to Sickels he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he says of the 22-year-old righthander, “[He] has a lot of potential, but he needs at least a year in the high minors before seeing major league action.” He’s certainly off to a good start this season.

Beirne is a 24-year-old righthander in the White Sox organization, about whom I know almost nothing except that he’s putting up some nice numbers in the Southern League thus far. Someone worth keeping an eye on.

I almost didn’t include Carlyle on this list because he’s probably too “well known” a prospect. Anyway, he’s a “projectable” righthander the Padres obtained just after the start of the season in exchange for flameout — er, flamethrower — Marc Kroon. He was a 2nd round draft choice out of the Reds out of a Nebraska high school. Although he isn’t striking out a lot of hitters, he also isn’t putting too many on. His control in particular is impressive, and any time a 20-year-old pitcher has success at Double-A, he deserves attention. The Padres will need to be careful with him, but right now he looks like the second best pitching prospect in the system.

Haynie is a 24-year-old southpaw in the Pittsburgh organization who doesn’t show up on any prospect lists, doesn’t strike many guys out, but so far is pitching quite well. He could be Tom Browning; he could be Kris Detmers. Who knows? But he’s a lefty, so I’ll keep watching him.

Kerry Wood may be the best thing that has happened to the Cubs in years, and not just because barring injury he’ll be one of the elite starters in baseball for years to come. With the spotlight so intensely focused on Wood, some of the pressure will be lifted from the Cubbies other pitching prospects such as Jon Cannon, Courtney Duncan, Jon Garland, Todd Noel, Philip Norton, and their 47th round draft pick in 1994, righty Kyle Farnsworth. He supposedly doesn’t have great stuff, but Blengino calls him a “sleeper” and says that he “has solid control and could add a little velocity as his 6’4″, 190, frame develops. ” He’s been hit pretty hard in the past, but always put up good K/BB ratios. This season, while moving up a level, Farnsworth has improved his hit prevention and his strikeout ratio, which suggests that he may have put a couple MPH on the ol’ fastball. He’s only 22 years old and definitely someone to keep an eye on.

Texas League

Last         First    Pos  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   PCT   OBP   SLG    OPS   BB/K    iOPS   iBB/K
*Tucker,     Jon      1B  107  14  38  10   1   5   23  11  19   0  .355  .415  .607  1.023   .579   30.35   -2.19
*Bergeron,   Peter    OF  101  21  30   2   3   3   15  18  17  12  .297  .403  .465   .869  1.059   10.72   78.89
*Hutchins,   Norm     OF  122  26  37   8   2   4   16  11  22  13  .303  .361  .500   .861   .500    9.73  -15.53
#Abbott,     Chuck    SS  111  19  36   2   2   1   18  13  26   4  .324  .395  .405   .801   .500    2.04  -15.53

Tucker is a big (6’4″, 200-lb), lefty-swinging first baseman out of Southern California. Just 21 years old, the Dodgers 8th round draft pick in 1995 has tremendous power. While he still doesn’t draw a lot of walks, neither does he strike out an inordinate amount. Still, his plate discipline has improved as he’s moved up a level, which is encouraging.

One word to describe Bergeron: fast. Another word is young. The 20-year-old was taken by the Dodgers in the 4th round of the 1996 draft, out of a Massachusetts high school. In his first two professional seasons Bergeron played well enough, but didn’t take full advantage of his speed. He struck out too much and stole bases at a poor rate. This year he’s cut down on the strikeouts while adding a touch of power to his game. Having hit only 10 homers in 732 pro at bats coming into 1998, the 6’1″, 185-lb Bergeron slugged 3 in the first month of the season. If he learns to use his speed, and continues to tighten his strike zone and develop his power, this guy could be really good.

Okay, Hutchins really doesn’t belong on this list. I just threw him in there because I’ve often wondered what he might do if he showed any kind of plate discipline. It’s still not great, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the 147/23 K/BB ratio he posted last year at Lake Elsinore. The tools are there. Now, perhaps, he’s learning how to use them.

Abbott is another Angels farmhand who has been a notoriously unselective hitter as a pro, striking out a whopping 170 times in 520 at bats last season at Cedar Rapids. Anaheim took him in the 2nd round of the 1996 draft, out of Austin Peay State University. Abbott started out his professional career as a second baseman, but this year has moved back to shortstop, where he played in college. He was a great hitter in college, and while many scouts have questioned his ability to hit with a wooden bat, Abbott appears to be on the verge of turning a corner. At age 23, the 6’1″, 180-lb switch hitter is no spring chicken, and he’ll need to keep up this kind of production for an extended period before we get too excited, but the fact that he was skipped a level and has improved his offense while playing a more demanding defensive postion speaks well of him.

Last         First     W  L  G  SV    IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO   ERA  K/BB    K/9   H/9    iERA   iK/BB    iK/9   iH/9
Garcia,      Freddy    1  2  6   0  41.3  26  10   9  20  43  1.96  2.15   9.36  5.66   56.79   21.68   35.83  40.54
Wise,        Matt      2  1  5   0  29.3  27  20  15   9  19  4.60  2.11   5.83  8.28   -1.47   19.47  -15.43  12.99

This isn’t Freddy Garcia, the Carolina Mudcats’ infielder; this guy is a 21-year-old righthander in the Astros system out of — everybody, now — Venezuela. Signed as a free agent in 1994, Garcia has been brought along slowly and has had the good fortune to be able to hide behind more highly touted prospects such as Chris Holt and Scott Elarton. Apparently he throws pretty hard (93 MPH), but has had some elbow troubles in the past. If the Astros are a little more cautious with Garcia than they were with Elarton, and closely monitor his workload, he could be special.

Wise is a righthander in the Angels system. Selected in the 6th round of the 1997 draft, out of Cal State Fullerton (Mark Kotsay’s alma mater), Wise made his professional debut last year at Boise, in the short-season Northwest League. In 1998, the 22-year-old made his full-season debut in the Texas League, working his home games in a dreadful park for pitchers. His ERA is a tad high, and his ratios aren’t overwhelming, but he’s certainly not embarrassing himself, and that’s pretty impressive for a kid who skipped two levels.


This level is remarkably devoid of unheralded prospects. The good ones have been “discovered” by now, and the rest are just an extension of the major-league club — “roster fill.”

International League

Well, I did manage to find one relatively obscure pitcher who may be something:

Last         First     W  L  G  SV    IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO   ERA  K/BB    K/9   H/9    iERA   iK/BB    iK/9   iH/9
*Barkley,    Brian     1  2  4   0  24.0  17  11  10   9  20  3.75  2.22   7.50  6.38   14.17   18.89    5.53  28.91

Barkley was chosen by the Red Sox in the 5th round of the 1994 draft, out of a Texas high school. He’s a 6’2″, 170-lb lefty who doesn’t show up on anyone’s prospect list. His ratios are good, but not outstanding. In the past he’s given up a ton of hits, but he’s also been one of the younger starters in his league. He’s still only 22 years old, so there is a chance that this improvement is a mark of real development. Then again, maybe he’s just strung together 4 decent starts at the beginning of the season. Blengino says that Barkley “has limited command and lacks a defining out pitch. He has a diverse array of pitches, but all of them catch too much of the plate and are easy to hit…. If he was a righty, he might already be looking for work.” Not exactly glowing praise, but then, those same comments could have applied to Denny Neagle 8 or 9 years ago. I, for one, am intrigued and will be watching Barkley very closely this season.

Well, there you have it. By no means a complete list, but a list nonetheless. I’ll be back next month with more names and updates on these guys. Until then, happy prospecting!

Padres Farm Report: Mike Darr/Gary Matthews

I’ve actually been meaning to write about these guys for quite some time, but for whatever reason (sheer laziness?) I haven’t gotten around to it until now. Anyway, Darr and Matthews are a couple of young outfielders who also happen to be sons of former major leaguers with the same name. Both are currently at Double-A Mobile of the Southern League and are playing quite well. Darr, ordinarily a right fielder, has taken over in center while Matthews recovers from a wrist injury.

Mike Darr

YR TEAM        G   AB   R    H  2B 3B  HR RBI   BB  SO  SB   AVG  OBP  SLG
94 BRIST R    44  149  23   41   6  0   1  18   23  22   4  .275 .376 .336
95 FAYET A   112  395  58  114  21  2   5  66   58  88   5  .289 .380 .390
96 LAKEL A    85  311  26   77  14  7   0  38   28  64   7  .248 .307 .338
97 RANCH A   134  521 104  179  32 11  15  94   57  90  23  .344 .409 .534
98 MOBIL AA   31  120  31   34  11  1   0  18   18  24   9  .283 .387 .392

TOTALS       406 1496 242  445  84 21  21 234  184 288  48  .297 .376 .424

We’ll look at Darr first since he’s the one getting all the play as a bona fide prospect these days. Darr was a second round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers back in 1994 and was acquired by the Padres prior to the 1997 season in a deal straight up for second baseman Jody Reed. Believe it or not, this was a wildly unpopular move in San Diego. Of course Reed is pretty much out of baseball now, after 122 dismal at bats for the Tigers as Damion Easley’s backup. Darr, in the meantime, had a monster season at Rancho Cucamonga, batting .344, with 58 extra base hits (including 15 homers) and showing reasonably good plate discipline (57 BB/90 K in 521 ABs). The 6’3″, 205-lb lefty also stole 23 bases in 30 attempts.

While these are impressive numbers, we must bear two things in mind:

  1. The California League is a notorious hitters league.
  2. Before 1997, Darr had never come anywhere near the numbers he posted at Rancho Cucamonga.

So the question now is, Did Darr reach a new level of ability last season, or was his success largely due to the league in which he played and was his production a blip on the screen of his career?

Well, although his 1997 season was wildly inconsistent with his previous record, we should remember a few things about Darr.

  1. He was drafted in the 2nd round of an amateur draft, so someone at some point in time saw something in him.
  2. He is the son of a former big leaguer, so he’s got good bloodlines (I know, I know, what about Bobby Bonds Jr. or Craig Griffey — still, it’s gotta count for something).
  3. He was only 21 last year, so it’s not as though he’d been lingering for years doing nothing. One of the major knocks on Darr has been what some perceive to be immaturity on his part. It’s very possible that in 1997, with a fresh start in a new organization, he started to grow up a bit. Stranger things have happened.
  4. He’s continuing his assault on pitchers at a higher level, although at last check he had yet to hit a home run.

With a statistical record that fluctuates like a — well, like a fluctuating thing (hey, it’s late) — Darr is hard to pin down in terms of comparing him to current major leaguers. My gut tells me he’ll probably end up being somewhat similar to Garrett Anderson, Shawn Green, Dave Martinez, Todd Hollandsworth, or Al Martin. If he learns to take a few more walks, and if he can convert some of those doubles and triples into homers, he might become Brian Giles, Bobby Higginson, Jeromy Burnitz, or Paul O’Neill.

Gary Matthews

YR TEAM        G   AB   R    H  2B 3B  HR RBI   BB  SO  SB   AVG  OBP  SLG
94 SPOKA A    52  191  23   40   6  1   0  18   19  58   3  .209 .286 .251
95 CLINT A   128  421  57  100  18  4   2  40   68 109  28  .238 .349 .314
96 RANCH A   123  435  65  118  21 11   7  54   60 102   7  .271 .366 .418
97 RANCH A    69  268  66   81  15  4   8  40   49  57  10  .302 .416 .478
97 MOBIL AA   28   90  14   22   4  1   2  12   15  29   3  .244 .352 .378
98 MOBIL AA   21   76  22   30   6  2   2  25   15  12   5  .395 .484 .605

TOTALS       421 1481 247  391  70 23  21 189  226 367  56  .264 .366 .385

While Darr gets most of the press, Matthews plods along, posting solid, if unspectacular, numbers wherever he goes. A 13th-round draft pick out of junior college in 1993, Matthews suffers from what I like to call “Mark Kotsay Syndrome.” That is, his physical tools are not overwhelming, but the guy can play.

Matthews is a true center fielder who can cover a lot of ground, and his offensive game is improving. While he’s always drawn his share of walks, this year he appears to be tightening up his strike zone a bit more. He has gaps power which could translate into 15-20 HR power down the line. And while he doesn’t have blazing speed, he can steal a base now and then.

Matthews, a 6’3″, 185-lb switch hitter, at age 23 is a tad old for the Southern League, but if he continues to progress at his current pace, he could well end up with a career similar to that of the Padres current center fielder, Steve Finley. If he gets a legitmate shot at a starting job within the next couple years, Matthews should fare no worse than, say, Quinton McCracken, Devon White, or Brian McRae.

Draft Watch 1998: Bubba Crosby

Bubba Crosby, OF, Rice University, Jr., 5-11, 185 lbs.

Bubba Crosby is a lefty-swinging outfielder out of Houston who generates tremendous power from a strong lower body and an uppercut stroke that gets through the hitting zone in a hurry. He hits from a crouch, weight on his back foot, a la George Brett or Phil Plantier, and uncoils on the pitch as it arrives.

Overshadowed last season by Lance Berkman, a 1st-round pick of the Houston Astros in June 1997, Crosby still was named to the all Western Athletic Conference team and now finds himself in a position similar to that of Berkman a year ago, i.e., to be a high 1st round pick in the June draft. Baseball America, in its Early Draft Preview, named the first-team All-American the #12 prospect in the nation. The same publication touted Crosby as the 7th best college prospect in the preseason; he has since moved up a slot to #6.

The night I saw him, against San Diego State, at Tony Gwynn Stadium, Crosby was coming back from some kind of an injury and didn’t play the field, so I don’t know what kind of an outfielder he is. I was still driving to the park during his first at bat, but in his second trip to the plate, after swinging and missing at the first offering from the Aztecs’ right hander Chad Wanders, he hit a solid line drive to straightaway center that was caught for an out. His next time up, Crosby swatted Wanders’ first pitch 450 feet, onto the roof of a building out behind right field. In his fourth time up to bat, he hit a towering popup to third base on a 2-1 pitch. And in his last at bat, Crosby hung in nicely against a lefty, slashing a grounder through the left side of the infield for an RBI single.

Because of his extreme uppercut stroke, Crosby will hit his share of fly balls. He may never hit .300, but with his leg strength, solid mechanics, and quick bat, many of the fly balls he hits will land in the cheap seats.

Jeff Nichols, RHP, Rice University, So., 6-3, 190 lbs.

Okay, I know this was supposed to be about Bubba Crosby, and I know Nichols won’t be drafted this year, but this is a guy to keep an eye on for 1999. As a freshman, Nichols tied Matt Anderson (1st pick overall, Detroit Tigers, 1997 draft) for the team lead in wins, with 10, on a team that ended up ranked #8 in the country. He lost only 2 games that year, posting a 3.42 ERA over 108 innings, while allowing only 104 hits. He also had a solid K/BB ratio of 71/31 and even came in to save a game.

Nichols has a real easy three-quarters delivery; he reminds me a bit of Padres’ right hander Andy Ashby, both in body type and in pitching style. I don’t know how hard he was throwing, but guys were fouling balls off to the opposite field all night. He also showed good composure on the mound, bouncing back nicely after uncorking a wild pitch that plated the first run and seeming relatively unconcerned by the 6 (!) errors his defense committed behind him. The only thing that appeared to be lacking in his repertoire was a true strikeout pitch: He often got ahead of hitters, but then failed to put them away.

We’ll have a better idea of where Nichols stands next year. When he comes out to San Diego I’ll chart his game and keep everyone updated on his progress. But so far, he looks pretty good.

Update: 5/27/98

Bubba Crosby

 AVG  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB
.401 207  73  83 15  3 23  84  42  25   2

Crosby has had an outstanding season at Rice. In the June 8-21, 1998, issue of Baseball America he is ranked #20 among draft prospects, and the top collegiate outfielder. He is rated the third best college power hitter (behind Miami’s Pat Burrell and UCLA’s Eric Valent) and the third fastest baserunner (behind Texas A&M’s Jason Tyner and Wichita State’s Zach Sorenson). Crosby is also ranked #5 among Texas prospects. I earlier compared him to Phil Plantier, but that was before I learned he plays center field. When I saw Crosby, he was coming back from a hamstring injury which kept him from playing the field. His height (6’0″) is really his only weakness, and from everything I’ve read about the guy, that won’t get in his way. Think Mark Kotsay, but with more power.

Jeff Nichols

I don’t have his numbers handy, but he has been invited to Team USA.

Damon Thames

 AVG  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB
.422 268  84 113 33  7 26 113  13  35   3

I didn’t mention Thames in the original report, frankly because he didn’t impress me all that much when I saw him. But since he had a pretty monstrous season, and since he’s now getting some play as a guy who could get drafted in the first five rounds of the June draft, I guess I should talk about him at least a little.

Thames is a junior college transfer, out of Humble, Texas. He’s a wiry kid (6’1″, 170 lbs) with good power from the right side of the plate. In the game I saw him play, he went 2 for 5, with a double and a homer. Both of his hits were on first-pitch fastballs and were yanked down the left field line. In my notes from that game, I wrote of Thames: “long, uneven swing; leads with upper body.” Unless he makes some adjustments, his long swing and lack of patience at the plate will ultimately be exploited as he reaches the high minors and the pitchers start throwing him good breaking balls and change-ups.

As a fielder, Thames has good hands, but his arm will probably force a move to a less demanding defensive position. When I saw him, he bounced two throws to first, and neither on plays that were particularly difficult for a shortstop to make.

If Thames can hit professional pitching, especially at higher levels, his bat may be able to withstand a move to third base. But those gaudy 1998 numbers aside, I remain skeptical of his hitting ability; a switch to second base seems more likely, where he might actually develop into a useful major league player.

Kerry Wood: Hope or Hype?

Kerry Wood, RHP, Chicago Cubs, 6-5, 190 lbs.

Selected out of a Texas high school in the 1st round of the 1995 June draft, #4 overall, after Darin Erstad, Ben Davis, and Jose Cruz, Jr., Kerry Wood made his long-awaited major-league debut this afternoon in Montreal against the Expos, two months shy of his 20th birthday.

Using almost exclusively fastballs in the mid- to high-90s and big, bending curveballs, Wood displayed his considerable talents, but as expected struggled with his control. Throwing serious heat generated from a smooth delivery and great drive from his legs, Wood naturally evokes comparisons to fellow Texans Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. He even wears Ryan’s number, 34.

In his debut, Wood struck out two batters in each of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th innings. He punched out Expos’ leadoff hitter Mark Grudzielanek twice, both times swinging; once, in the 1st inning, on a 3-2 fastball about a foot outside, and again, in the 5th, on a 1-2 curve that bounced. He also made Jose Vidro look silly in the 2nd inning on two high fastballs followed by a curve in the dirt.

The hardest hit balls were Brad Fullmer’s single in the 1st and double in the 4th, and fly outs by Shane Andrews in the 2nd and Grudzielanek in the 3rd, both of which were caught just short of the warning track. Lefties appeared to give Wood more trouble than righties, with Fullmer collecting two hits and F.P. Santangelo walking twice and being hit in the 5th inning by an 0-2 breaking pitch that bounced in front of the plate and grazed his leg.

Overall, the Cubs have to be pleased with what they saw this afternoon. Wood came up from Triple-A, showed an excellent major-league fastball and curveball, and displayed good composure. And with a little luck, his final pitching line could have looked better than it did.

Today the Cubs wisely placed Wood on a very strict pitch count. If they continue to exercise caution with the 19-year-old right hander, and if Wood can stay healthy and gain better command of the strike zone, Cubs fans will have plenty to cheer about for years to come whenever this man takes the mound.

Pitching chart

Update: 4/18/98

After Wood’s major league debut against the Montreal Expos, Cubs pitching coach Phil Regan made some adjustments to the young right-hander’s delivery to keep him from throwing across his body and to keep him on top of his curveball. This afternoon against a better hitting Los Angeles Dodgers ballclub, Wood made his Wrigley Field debut with impressive results.

Again relying almost exclusively on fastballs and curveballs, Wood worked 5 scoreless innings against the Dodgers. He struck out Dodger All-Star catcher Mike Piazza on breaking pitches twice, once swinging and once looking. He also made Todd Zeile look helpless in the 4th inning, getting the veteran third baseman to wave at two curveballs before freezing him with a 97-MPH fastball over the inside corner.

Wood’s pitches had good movement, the fastball tailing back in on right-handers. At one point, during the 2nd and 3rd innings he threw 23 consecutive fastballs, only one of which — a line single to left by Dodger rookie Paul Konerko — was hit with any kind of authority.

Because of the movement on his pitches and because he strikes so many hitters out, Wood is going to work deep into the count a lot of the time, and for now his biggest challenge will be to make it through the 5th inning of any given game so he can qualify for the victory.

Except for the results, the numbers from Wood’s second major league start are very similar to those of his first start.

Draft Watch 1998: Jeff Weaver

Jeff Weaver, RHP, Fresno State, Jr., 6-5, 200 lbs.

Weaver is a tall, lanky right hander with a loose arm, who pitches from a three-quarters delivery and sometimes drops down to the side against righties, a la David Cone. His fastball runs in the low 90s, and he features a slow curve as his #2 pitch. He also throws an occasional slider and straight change.

Rated the #11 college prospect by Baseball America in its preseason rankings, Weaver had slipped to #14 in the April 13 issue, despite posting a 4-3 record with a 2.78 ERA and 65 walks versus 19 strikeouts in 55 innings. In its early draft preview, Baseball America projected Weaver as the #22 pick overall in the 1998 draft. In the 1997 draft he was chosen in the 2nd round by the White Sox, #62 overall, but did not sign.

In the game I saw him pitch, against San Diego State at Tony Gwynn Stadium, he fell behind a lot of hitters, often missing high with his fastball. He also stayed on top of a few breaking pitches that just sort of tumbled toward the plate. And despite recording 6 strikeouts in 7 innings, he appeared to have trouble delivering the knockout punch at times. Of his 6 strikeouts, the first 5 were on called third strikes. His 2nd strikeout, which came in the 3rd inning, gave him 412 for his career and made him the Fresno State all-time leader in strikeouts.

The Aztecs wisely loaded their lineup with lefties, as Weaver had far greater success against right-handed hitters. His pattern against all hitters was more or less the same: fastballs early in the count, breaking balls late in the count. When he fell behind in the count, which was fairly often, he tended to rely on his fastball more.

After 6 innings the Bulldogs led the game, 3-2, and Weaver had already thrown 105 pitches. In the top of the 7th inning, Fresno State scored 4 times. After sitting and watching his team’s offense explode for more than 20 minutes, Weaver came out to pitch the bottom of the 7th despite his team being up by 5 runs.

Weaver labored in the 7th, hitting a batter, allowing an infield single, and walking a batter to load the bases with two outs before inducing a ground ball to second base on a wicked 2-2 fastball that ran in on the Aztecs’ cleanup hitter, a righty. He threw 28 pitches that inning, bringing his game total to 133.

Weaver came out again to start the 8th, but clearly he had lost it. His first two pitches weren’t even close, and his third was hammered 420 feet to dead center. That was pitch #136, the last he would throw.

While Weaver’s performance wasn’t bad, it certainly wasn’t as dominating as I’d anticipated. Of course I might have caught him on an off night, and perhaps my expectations for a projected 1st-round pick were unreasonably high. But against a fairly pedestrian San Diego State team, I really expected to see a man among boys, and I did not.

Here are the numbers from Weaver’s game against San Diego State:

         IP   H   R  ER  BB   K  HR
         7+   9   3   3   2   6   2

         AB   H  2B  3B  HR  BB   K HBP  SH  SF
vs LHB   19   7   1   0   2   2   3   0   0   1
vs RHB   12   2   1   0   0   0   3   1   0   0

pitches thrown: 136
strikes: 83
fastballs: 87
slow curves: 43
sliders: 4
change ups: 2
sidearm: 14 (12 to righties, 2 to lefties)

batters faced: 32
1st-pitch strikes: 17
2-ball counts: 10
3-ball counts: 6

hits allowed: 9
2nd inning: 0-0 curve, single to left (RH hitter)
2nd inning: 2-2 curve, single to right (LH hitter)
2nd inning: 1-1 curve, single to right (LH hitter)
4th inning: 0-0 curve, single to left (LH hitter)
4th inning: 1-2 fastball, home run to right, ~355 feet (LH hitter)
5th inning: 0-0 fastball, double to right (LH hitter)
6th inning: 2-1 curve, double to center (RH hitter)
7th inning: 3-2 fastball, single to shortstop (LH hitter)
8th inning: 2-0 fastball, home run to center, ~420 feet (LH hitter)

Andruw Jones: Boom or Bust?

In 1996, 19-year-old outfielder Andruw Jones tore through the Atlanta Braves minor league system, beginning it at Class-A Durham, and ending it by becoming the youngest player in major league history to slug two homers in a World Series game. Coming into last season expectations for the phenom from Curacao were understandably high. But, like many young players, Jones struggled to hit big-league pitching on a consistent basis. As the season wore on, and the pressure mounted, Jones saw his batting average plummet from .272 at the all-star break to .231 at season’s end. His peripheral numbers similarly declined, as indicated by .363 OBP/.446 SLG before the break versus .297/.387 after. Particularly baffling to the young prospect were right-handed pitchers, who held him to .204/.300/.373 — numbers not unlike those of Gerald Williams, who ironically is now with the Braves as a backup to Jones.

So what went wrong? How come Jones struggled so mightily? How come he couldn’t hit the curve ball? How come he looked more like Willie Whiffmeister than Willie Mays? Before we answer that question, let’s look at some numbers:

Age    G    AB    R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG    SB   CS   SB%
 21  113   413   72   92   26   3  16   48   65  102  .223  .330  .416    36    7  .837
 20  153   399   60   92   18   1  18   70   56  107  .231  .329  .416    20   11  .645

These stat lines look pretty similar. Check out those OBP and SLG, the two best indicators of offensive production. This could easily be two different seasons by the same player. But they’re not; the top one belongs to one of the greatest players of this generation, indeed, of all time, Barry Bonds. The bottom one belongs to our good friend Mr. Jones. This is how each of them performed in their first full season in the major leagues (okay, okay, Bonds spent the first 1 1/2 months in the minors, but you get the idea).

I was rereading the 1987 Bill James Baseball Abstract the other day and stumbled across something called “similarity scores.” These scores show, as the name indicates, how similar two seasons were. I won’t go into all the technical details, but essentially two exactly identical seasons give a perfect score of 1000. For each pair of statistics that are appreciably different from each other, a certain number of “points” are deducted from the score. The similarity score for Bonds’ 1986 season and Jones’ 1997 season is roughly 944. Of the 56 points deducted from the original 1000, fully one-quarter of those result from the 1 year age difference (James placed much greater weight on age than on any other statistic when evaluating rookies). The other main divergences were in games played and RBI (Bonds spent much of his rookie season batting leadoff for the Pirates). But all in all, these look like pretty darned similar seasons.

“Yes, they look similar, but offensive levels were much higher in 1997 than in 1986, when Bonds broke in,” some of you (assuming anyone reads this) may be saying. Okay, then, if we adjust Jones’ numbers to 1986 levels, his line reads .206/.295/.356. That’s not quite as good, is it? No, it isn’t, but let’s remember a few key points:

Had he followed a more “traditional” path, Jones likely would have spent 1997 at Triple-A Richmond. His numbers in 1996 were mighty impressive, and Jones appeared unfazed by each new level of competition he faced. But take a closer look; although his production improved with every step up the ladder, his plate discipline suffered:

      YR TEAM        G   AB   R    H  2B 3B  HR RBI   BB  SO  SB   AVG  OBP  SLG
      96 DURHA A    66  243  65   76  14  3  17  43   42  54  16  .313 .419 .605
      96 GREEN AA   38  157  39   58  10  1  12  37   17  34  12  .369 .432 .675
      96 RICHM AAA  12   45  11   17   3  1   5  12    1   9   2  .378 .391 .822

These are truly staggering numbers by any standard, let alone for a 19-year-old. But clearly he was still a work in progress. Andruw Jones may have been better off spending at least half a season at Triple-A last year. But he didn’t, and he certainly didn’t embarrass himself in the big leagues, despite what many of the mainstream media would have you believe.
Bonds was a pretty polished player coming out of a very strong collegiate program at Arizona State University. Jones was a comparatively raw talent with loads of tools, but less playing experience at a high level.
Bonds spent his first (nearly) full season in the bigs as a 21-year-old. Jones spent his as a 20-year-old. On the surface this doesn’t seem too important, but according to the 1987 Abstract, the peak value of a player who starts his major league career at age 20 is likely to be higher than that of a player who debuts at age 21 — about 31% higher, in fact. Bill James even provides a list of pairs of players who had comparable rookie seasons, one at age 20, the other at age 21:

      20-Year-Old          21-Year-Old
      Hank Aaron           Gus Bell
      Buddy Bell           Sixto Lezcano
      Johnny Bench         Greg Luzinski
      Curt Flood           Jim Spencer
      Tony Kubek           Tim McCarver
      Willie Mays          Curt Blefray
      Rick Manning         George Brett
      Joe Torre            Gus Bell
      Boog Powell          Rick Monday

This is a pretty solid bunch of ballplayers, but while there are some nice names among the 21-year-olds (Bell, Brett, Monday), there are some truly legendary names among the 20-year-olds (Aaron, Bench, Mays). Now I’m certainly not suggesting that Andruw Jones is going to outperform Bonds over the course of their careers based on this research. It is of course conceivable that he could play Rick Manning to Bonds’ George Brett. But in general guys who are successful at the major league level at age 20 will put up better career totals than similar players who got their start a year later.

Before we finish up, I’ll throw out a few more numbers. I tend to be somewhat leery of defensive statistics, but for the sake of completion, I’ll include both players’ for their first full seasons:

                                           League        League
Player     G    PO     A     E    DP  FPct  FPct  Range   Range
Bonds    110   280     9     5     2  .983  .979   2.63    1.82
Jones    147   288    15     7     2  .977  .980   2.06    1.77

Bonds had better range; Jones recorded more assists. Both were above average in all respects except fielding percentage, arguably the least important defensive statistic.

Now let’s look at their career minor league numbers:

Player     G   AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
Bonds    115  402  79 122 23  6 20  74  70  83  31 .303 .403 .540
Jones    318 1220 261 369 82 13 62 218 155 263 107 .302 .389 .543

For easier comparison, we’ll put this into seasonal notation:

Player     G   AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB  AVG  OBP  SLG
Bonds    162  566 111 172 32  8 28 104  99 117  44 .304 .408 .537
Jones    162  622 133 188 42  7 32 111  79 134  55 .302 .381 .547

Just for kicks, I’ve calculated the similarity score for the above lines is — neglecting for obvious reasons the age factor — and it’s (I swear, I did not plan this) 944!

Well, I’m tired of spouting out numbers, and I’m sure you’re tired of reading them. So let’s return to our original question: What went wrong with Andruw Jones? The answer is “nothing” — he is simply going through the process that every player must go through in making the transition from the minors to the big leagues. If he is as good as his numbers indicate, he should be just fine; i.e., he should learn how to hit right-handers, how to lay off the breaking balls in the dirt, how to use his “tools” to the best of his ability to make himself a perennial all star.

The potential is there; now it’s just a matter of realizing it. Will there be struggles? Of course there will be, just as there were for Bonds, for Ken Griffey, Jr., for Alex Rodriguez, and for just about anyone who has played the game at such a high level. But I like the kid’s chances. And I hope that when Jones finally does join the ranks of the elite, wins a string of MVP awards, and becomes the third player to join the 40/40 club in the year 2007, all those people who right now think of him as a “flop” will come to appreciate the man for his accomplishments and not dwell on the “shortcomings” of his early career.

Now if we could just get people to do that with Bonds…

Age and Treachery Will Overcome Youth and Skill

It was recently suggested on the AOL STATS Sabermetrics Board that Tony Gwynn’s dramatic improvement at age 33-37 is largely due to the fact that the seasons during which he played at those ages coincide with the last expansion in 1993. But I believe there is more to it than this.

While I’m sure expansion has had something to do with Gwynn’s improvement, it is an oversimplification to attribute all of it to that one cause. I don’t have league numbers for the past 5 years, but I’d venture to guess that Gwynn’s BA vs league BA is probably better than just about anyone else’s for that same period (heck, only three players — Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, and Pete Browning — have higher career BAs relative to league averages).

As for the assertion that Gwynn’s improvement at such a late stage in his career is unprecedented, let’s play a little game of “Who Am I?” I’ve laid out 5-year stats for two players during the seasons when they were 33-37 years old; I’ve also given 5-year stats for the same two players during the seasons exactly 10 years prior, i.e., when they were 23-27 years old.

Player A

Age     BA     OBP     SLG     OPS
33     358     398     497     895
34     394     454     568    1052
35     368     404     484     888
36     353     400     441     841
37     372     409     547     956
Tot    368     411     508     919

23     309     355     372     727
24     351     410     444     854
25     317     364     408     772
26     329     381     467     848
27     370     447     511     958
Tot    338     393     448     841

Player B

Age     BA     OBP     SLG     OPS
33     285     343     464     807
34     325     399     489     888
35     320     389     461     860
36     332     402     509     911
37     341     410     518     928
Tot    322     401     488     889

23     304     372     469     841
24     267     341     335     676
25     302     366     450     816
26     270     333     410     743
27/28  291     344     395     739
Tot    288     348     414     762

Both of our contestants hit significantly better when they were 10 years older. Following are indexes which compare the numbers put up at age 33-37 to those put up at 23-27:

              BA     OBP     SLG     OPS
Player A     109     105     113     109
Player B     112     115     118     117

From this it appears that Player B has improved his performance at age 33-37 vs age 23-27 even more than Player A has. There have been numerous factors involved in both players’ improvement, including health, experience, and yes to an extent expansion.

Now let’s unmask our familiar friends. Player A is of course Tony Gwynn (that 394 BA kind of gave it away); Player B is Paul Molitor. So not only is Tony Gwynn not the only player to improve that dramatically at such an advanced age, he’s not even the player who improved the most at that age.

While I am willing to concede that some of the increased success of both Gwynn and Molitor is due to the factors mentioned above, I believe that in both cases they did in fact become much better at an advanced age.

Put Me In, Coach!

You know, I really don’t like to gripe about player salaries. I mean, the whole salary structure is so far out of whack it’s not even funny, but I can’t really fault the players for that. If someone was going to pay me millions a year to copy edit, I certainly wouldn’t say, “Gee, that’s awful nice, but the $25,000 I’m making is just fine.” Nor would you.

But when I see the Los Angeles Dodgers sign Jose Vizcaino to a 3-year contract worth $9.5 million — well, to quote Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: First Contact, “The line must be drawn here!” I’m sure Vizcaino is a nice enough guy, and I congratulate him and his agent for being able to exploit such a screwed up market. But if I’m the Dodgers, shouldn’t I at least think about letting young Alex Cora skip AAA and man shortstop for the big club in 1998?

Sure, maybe Cora’s not ready, but who cares? Vizcaino’s been ready for years, and I’ve got news for you. He’s just not that good. Only in America can a below-average middle infielder call himself a millionaire. I understood all the gasps at the Diamondbacks’ signing of Jay Bell a few weeks back, but I remember thinking at the time, Yeah, but Bell’s a decent enough player and the ‘backs are just starting out, so I can almost, if I really stretch things, justify it.

But Jose Vizcaino? If I were a Dodger fan, I’d offer for the good of my team to go out and play shortstop for them right now. Heck, I’d play for the major-league minimum. What is that now, anyway, $170,000 or so? Yes, I’d be willing to play for that little if it meant the team didn’t have to pay Jose Vizcaino $9.5 million. I’m a team player — I’d make that sacrifice.

Of course in a few short years I’d be a free agent, and if I had a halfway decent agent, I could sign with Arizona for half what Bell makes. I’d accept that kind of money, even if it was less than my market value, if it meant having the opportunity to play in Phoenix. That’s just the kind of guy I am. A good-field, no-hit shortstop. A good guy in the clubhouse. Lots of intangibles.

Padres Farm Report: Matt Clement

The Padres have fallen into the habit of drafting strong arms from Pennsylvania high schools. In 1995 they picked up catcher Ben Davis. Two years earlier, San Diego selected Matt Clement, an infielder with a lively arm who someone in the organization envisioned as a pitcher.

Admittedly, Clement’s progress has been slow, as not until his fifth professional season did he make it to Double-A. But consider this: While most pitchers were learning how to throw a change-up or how to set up hitters, Clement was learning how to stand on the pitcher’s mound.

Once he’d mastered the fundamentals, Clement began refining his game. With the movement on his pitches evoking comparisons to to Florida’s Kevin Brown, Clement turned to improving his control and command. His K/BB ratio has gotten better each year, and in 1997 it topped out at better than 3 to 1.

After compiling a sub-2.00 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League, Clement jumped to the Southern League, where, although not as dominant as before, he outpitched more highly regarded prospects such as the Pirates’ Kris Benson and the Cubs’ Kerry Wood.

The Padres have been very patient with Matt Clement. After his emergence in 1997 as one of the brightest pitching prospects in baseball, Clement now finds himself on the fast track to the major leagues. Depending on how he handles the Pacific Coast League and Cashman Field in Las Vegas, he could see time with the parent club in 1998. Only 23 years old, barring injury or complete collapse Clement will have the opportunity to establish himself as a full-time starter in 1999, and if his success thus far is any indication, there’s no reason to believe he’ll relinquish his spot in the rotation any time soon once he arrives.

Update: 5/1/98

 W- L    ERA   G  SV    IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO
 2- 2   3.20   4   0  25.3  17  12   9  16  23

Clement has gotten off to a terrific start at Las Vegas and has pitched remarkably well at home, in the hitters’ paradise known as Cashman Field. His control could use some improvement, but he has been very stingy with the hits — always a good sign.

Padres Farm Report: Expansion Draft Aftermath

Before the expansion draft Padres GM Kevin Towers expressed concern that he would lose three players from the organization. As it turned out, the Padres lost only two.

The first Padre taken, by Arizona with the 5th pick overall, was Gabe Alvarez. Alvarez, a second round draft choice in 1994 as a shortstop out of USC, is a right-handed hitter with above average plate discipline and power to the gaps. He moved to third base on turning pro, and although he has been hampered by foot injuries and an erratic throwing arm, he has continued to display the hitting stroke that caught the attention of then-Padre-GM Randy Smith three years ago. Before the Diamondbacks picked up Alvarez, the Padres had considered moving him to second base or the outfield. Now, reunited with Randy Smith in Detroit via an expansion-draft-day trade, he is likely to remain at third base and should replace Joe Randa in the Tigers lineup sometime in 1999.

The second player selected from the Padres was Todd Erdos, a right-handed reliever. Erdos came back from a life-threatening illness that caused him to miss the 1994 seasons. In 1997 he appeared in a handful of games for the Padres with mixed results. Although none of his pitches is above average, Erdos is fearless on the mound and should be a solid addition to the Arizona bullpen.

Update: 5/1/98

Gabe Alvarez

 AVG  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB
.284  67  13  19  3  1  6  22  13  17   0

Thanks to a fast start at Toledo, Alvarez has once again established himself as a top-level prospect. He is displaying both good power and solid plate discipline. With Joe Randa’s early struggles there has been talk of Alvarez coming up to Detroit after the All-Star break.

Todd Erdos

 W- L    ERA  G  SV   IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO
 0- 1   5.00  9   2  9.0   9   5   5   4  15

Erdos didn’t stick around the Diamondbacks organization too long. He was traded to the New York Yankees in a deal that brought infielder Andy Fox to Arizona. He’s racking up the strikeouts at AAA Columbus, awaiting a call-up to the Big Apple.