Saturday, December 30, 2006

It's Moving Time!

The new blog is complete, so it's time to move.

I've enjoyed my time here at Fire Joe Torre. I sincerely believe that Joe Torre still needs to be fired (and I'm sure that you'll hear me rail him a few times a month), but the blog name is tired. I'd like to thank all of my loyal readers for their email, comments, and attentions.

The new blog is "Pinstripes Potentials" and is located at All 37 prospect profiles have been moved over, and I have just posted the profile of Salvage Project Andy Cannizaro. Change your bookmarks!


Friday, December 29, 2006

Randy Johnson Trade

I haven't weighed in on the Randy Johnson trade because it's been mostly rumor. For awhile it seemed like there was a decent market out there for Randy Johnson, as the Giants, Dodgers, Padres, and Dbacks were all interested. Yeah, I was crossing my fingers and hoping that some GM would be dumb enough to send us a Chad Tracy or Kevin Kouzmanoff. Unfortunately, we're not dealing with the Mariners or Nationals, and the Diamondbacks played it smart. Still, we heard a couple of names leak out this morning. Those names are Dustin Nippert, Micah Owings and Ross Ohlendorf. The Yankees want two of the three.

I don't know a whole lot about these guys, but I'd figure that I would give you my take. Ohlendorf is the most intriguing of the group. He has near-inhuman control of a low-90s fastball. He is a very smart guy out of Princeton, and pitched 182 innings last season. He's not going to strike a ton of people out, but he's going to be a successful major league starter with that kind of control. He just turned 24.

Nippert is the Dback's consensus top pitching prospect, although I'd rate Ohlendorf over him. He's a big tall college guy who turns 26 in May. He sports a career 3.30 minor league ERA with a hair less than a strikeout per inning and decent control. Problem is, he had a lot of problems at AAA in 2006 with an ERA of 4.87. Thing is, his peripherals (BB/9, HR/9, K/9) all remained solid, but his H/9 shot up. That screams of bad luck to me. Nippert should be considered near major league ready. He's a pitching prospect similar to Steve White.

Owings is also a pretty decent prospect. He was drafted three times by major league teams, but wanted to remain in college. The Dbacks got him in the 3rd round in 2005 (I wanted the Yankees to use their second round pick on him. We got J.B. Cox instead). He had a very nice little college career between competitive programs at Georgia Tech and Tulane. His Junior year saw his ERA fall to 3.24 and his BB/9 to 1.74. 2006 was his first full season in the minor leagues. He pitched 162 innings between AA and AAA, striking out 130 and walking 51. He posted an ERA of 2.91 at AA and 3.70 at AAA. I don't know what he throws, but I do know that he throws it hard. Owings is my favorite of the three. I really wanted him back in 2005. He is for all intents and purposes, major league ready.

I really can't see the Dbacks trading Owings for Randy Johnson. Owings could easily be better than the Big Unit next season. He'd fly to the top of our depth charts. I'll take any two of these guys for Randy, although I'd prefer to avoid Nippert.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Works in Progress: The New Site!

I'm currently building the new blog site right now. It can be found at:

If you have any comments or suggestions about the new layout and look, post them here (Fire Torre site, not on the new site yet).

The new site will be launched once Haloscan releases it's new code for the blogger beta. I plan on moving over all 40ish prospect profiles to that site, and having this one forward you to the new one.

Comments on the new look would really help. I'm no artist.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Works in Progress: Daniel McCutchen

Age: 24 (turned in September)
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 190 lbs
Drafted: 13th Round in 2006 out of the University of Oklahoma
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: McCutchen throws a pretty standard 92 mph fastball. It isn't particularly straight or live. He was throwing harder during his time in relief at Oklahoma, but settled in to the 92 mph range once he was converted to a starter. However, his breaking stuff is what really seperates him. I've been reading quote after quote of Big-12 hitters talking about being fooled by McCutchen's curve/split combination. Several hitters said "We just kept swinging at pitches in the dirt. We couldn't do anything about it". McCutchen's three different speeds really aid him in keeping hitters off balance.

Command: McCutchen's command was decent throughout college, walking about 1 batter every three innings. He projects to have average major league command and control if everything goes well. Typically, he spots his curveball better than his splitter. The difference in break between the two serves to keep hitters off balance a lot, getting him a lot of swings and misses.

Performance: McCutchen was a late bloomer. He started his college career in 2002 with division II Central Oklahoma. He transfered to the University of Oklahoma, but was forced to sit out in 2003. He spent 2004 and 2005 as a good-but-not-great reliever, and finally blossomed as a 5th year senior starting pitcher in 2006. Overall, he pitched 313 innings, striking out 329 and walking 96 in route to a 4.02 ERA. He pitched an impressive yet stressful 148 innings in 2006. Because of this, the Yankees only let him pitch more than 3 innings every five days once. Overall, he pitched 29 innings in 9 appearances, striking out 29 and walking 6. His ERA was a sparkling 1.86.

Health: Its all too good to be true right? A guy with a passable fastball and two good breaking pitches, no control problems, and a stellar start to his professional career? Daniel McCutchen was suspended for 50 games following a failed drug test in August. Update - Looks like I was acting on bad information. Dan's drug test was actually pretty benign. He tested positive for a prescription amphetamine.

2007 Outlook: McCutchen will likely be headed to Tampa. He's 24 years old and will have to move fast. I personally think that McCutchen will head back to the bullpen. He's proven to be very durable, but the Yankees won't have a whole lot of room for him in the future. He's blocked by a dozen pitchers higher in the pecking order.

Comparison: I really don't know. Steve Trachsel with a little more velocity.

My Take: I think that McCutchen is too good to be true. I think that he either had a hot couple of months or a juiced couple of months. He wasn't very good in college, despite good peripheral numbers. His upside is average, but he has only one season of more than 84 innings pitched under his belt. Still, he got great reviews from his peers in college, and could have made a simple mistake after entering professional baseball with performance enhancers. McCutchen's a smart guy - he made all-scholar teams - so maybe he'll be smart enough to rebound. He's going to be halfway to his 25th birthday by the time he returns from his steroid suspension. 50 games is really going to hurt him. Maybe I'll be wrong, but if I am McCutchen I would look for another career.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Can Wang Repeat?

I've got a few free minutes, so I figure that I would address the subject of Chien-Ming Wang. I know that I promised a profile on Dan McCutchen, but that will have to wait. It takes me about an hour to write a profile, but considerably less to comment on a well known Yankee.

Chien-Ming Wang was excellent last season. He pitched 218 innings of 3.63 ERA ball, following a 116 inning, 4.02 ERA rookie season. Wang was, as THT puts it, the most democratic pitcher in the majors, striking out just 76 and walking 52. He was arguably the AL's 2nd best pitcher last season, and the BBWAA voted him 2nd in the AL for the Cy Young award.

Wang's season was historic. No pitcher in history has ever maintained strikeout rates this low and been this successful. In fact, according to that THT article, no pitcher has qualified for the ERA title in the past 15 years with a strikeout rate as low as Wang's 3.1. He compensates with ground balls, posting a 2.84 G/F ratio.

Wang is not the only groundball specialist in the majors. Derek Lowe posted an identical ERA of 3.63 with a 3.48 g/f ratio. Brandon Webb was probably the NL's best pitcher with a 3.10 ERA and g/f ratio of 3.64. However, Webb struck out 178 and Lowe struck out 123. Only really Aaron Cook posted extremely low strikeout rates, posting an ERA of 4.23 while striking out 92 in 212.2 innings, with a 2.59 G/F ratio.

But Aaron Cook managed a 4.24 ERA in the National League (Coors has become a fairly neutral park in recent years). Chien-Ming Wang has been much better. Why?

Wang doesn't have inhuman G/F ratios. He's very good, but nothing that we haven't seen before. Derek Lowe and Brandon Webb had comparable performances with better ratios. He doesn't have inhuman control, or completely erradicate the home run. The Yankees infield defense isn't nearly as good as the Dodgers' or the Dback's infield, or even the Rockies' infield. So, why is Wang so damn good?

It's hard to tell. It could be luck. Wang has only pitched a 330 major league innings, and could very well be playing over his head. Even so, after a slowish start to the season (His ERA eached 4.52 in the begining of June), Wang was very consistent month to month. He posted ERAs of 3.19, 3.03, 3.23, and 3.48 over the next four. For all intents and purposes, Wang was a legit Roy Halladay ace after he settling in. So what the hell is going on?

I don't have an answer. The common explanation from fans is that Wang throws harder than most sinkerballers. I think that velocity definately has something to do with it, but I Wang is far from the first power pitcher to throw a sinker. I think that sometimes pitchers have an inhuman talent that is impossible to explain, and that Wang's ability to induce weak groundballs is an inhuman talent. Maybe it is the hesitation in his wind up, maybe it is something about the sinker grip that Neil Allen taught him, or maybe he's just really good at throwing it.

How good can Wang be? I think that the jury is still out. Wang could very well regress to a Westbrook/Cook level of performance. My first instinct when thinking about this issue was that Wang would have a problem even recreating his 2006 performance. I've changed my mind. I think that Wang could very well put up entire season ERAs similar to those last four months that he pitched.

Wang has only been throwing his sinker for two years. Neil Allen taught it to him before the 2005 season in Columbus. I think that he's still a little bit rusty with it. Wang's ground balls are unusually weak, almost like Roy Hallday's. When he is inducing his weak ground balls, he is almost unbeatable. Most groundball pitchers allow a lot of runs when balls inevitably squeak through their defense. Wang's problems always seem to come out of the stretch. That's not news to Yankee fans. If the power of Wang's sinker comes not from it's sink but from his deceptive delivery, than his stretch move wouldn't have the same kind of sink. His problems with men on base may not be something that he can fix without some serious coaching.

Wang got better as the Yankee infield defense got better. Alex Rodriguez had a terrible first three months, but was decent after that. Robinson Cano started slow but blossomed into a superb defensive 2nd baseman, and although Jeter didn't have an excellent year, he was better in the 2nd half. Giambi also played less 1st base later in the season.

The Yankee infield was average last season. Phillips and Cano brought it way up, while Jeter, Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez brought it down. Early rumors have Alex Rodriguez dropping back down to the playing weight that he was at a few years ago, and the Yankees very clearly want a gloveman to replace Jason Giambi at first. Jeter was a pretty good defensive shortstop in 2004 and 2005, and is very capable of playing at least average defense. I think that if everything breaks his way, that Wang is capable of improving on his 2006 performance. I'd say that he is capable of putting up ERAs between 3.20 and 3.40.

Still, the true power of Chien-Ming Wang doesn't really lie in his ability to put up gaudy ERAs. Wang is a bonafide innnings eater. He pitched 218 innings in 2006, but he is capable of better. Joe Torre had Wang, in part due to prior shoulder problems, put Wang on a very short leash. Wang was allowed to throw over 100 pitches only eight times, regularly finishing his outings with 85-90 pitches thrown. He was the 3rd most economical pitcher in the majors, throwing just 14.01 per inning. (Btw, is anyone else amazed that Greg Maddux threw just 12 pitches per inning in 2001? Holy crap)

I think that Wang's true power lies in his ability to gobble up innings. Wang runs through batters like Maddux, Halladay, Webb, or Carpenter. All of those guys are 240+ inning per year threats. I think that as Wang proves that his shoulder is healthy, he will start posting inning counts in the 240 inning range. That means that Wang will average 7 innings per start - a considerable feat in today's offensive era. Even if his ERA is closer to 4.00 than 3.0o, he'll still be an incredible valueable pitcher. Baseball is a giant war of attrition, and starters who go the distance have value far beyond their run prevention. If you want an example of this, look at the inverse in Jaret Wright. He posted a decent ERA, but he hurt the team by leaving before the 6th inning most of the time.

Merry Christmas.

Don't Fear the Reaper

I've heard a lot of speculation about the quality of the Red Sox team lately, both in the comments of this site and on other message boards. I've heard that the Red Sox are big favorites to win the AL East, that they will win 105 games, that they are favorites to win the World Series, that Matzusaka will win 21 games, that the Red Sox have a better hitting lineup than the Yankees, that the Yankees have no starting pitching, and that the Yankees have actually gotten worse this offseason. It's all crap.

The Red Sox won 87 games last season. They were worse than the White Sox, Tigers, Twins, Athletics, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Athletics. To make matters worse, they allowed 825 runs and scored 820 runs, which would normally ticket a team for 80 wins or so. The Red Sox were not a good team in 2006 by any standard.

Seeing this as an obvious problem, the Red Sox were buyers heading in to this offseason. They upgraded four positions - replacing Mark Loretta at 2nd with Dustin Pedroia, Alex Gonzalez at short with Julio Lugo, replacing Trot Nixon in right with J.D. Drew, and of course replacing a bunch of scrubs in the rotation with Matzusaka.

The Yankees have made some improvements themselves. Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu will play full seasons in pinstripes - a big upgrade over Bernie Williams, Bubba Crosby, Terence Long, and Melky Cabrera sharing that playing time. Jason Giambi will be moved to DH - where his bat could suffer but we'll save 15-20 runs on defense. Alex Rodriguez will most likely improve, while Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Robinson Cano will likely (although not certainly) get a little worse. I think that barring major injuries, our offense is at least as good as last year's, if not better. We scored 930 runs last year, and the Red Sox scored 820.

Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa should be effective additions to the starting rotation over Jaret Wright and the tandem of Aaron Small, Cory Lidle, Sidney Ponson, Jeff Karstens (who was actually pretty good), Darrell Rasner and Shawn Chacon, who combined for an ERA well over 5.50. They will be big improvements, which will help counteract the inevitable regressions by Mike Mussina (who still should be pretty good) and Chien Ming Wang. However, Randy Johnson (if he's healthy enough to pitch) will pitch better than he did last season (4.20-4.40 range). Overall, our starting staff is pretty good.

Our bullpen is as least as good as last year, and has the potential to be downright lethal. We have Mariano Rivera, enough said. I think that Kyle Farnsworth is better than his off year indicated. I predict that Farnsworth will give us 70 innings of low 3s, high 2s ERA work. Proctor probably will be a little worse (if he's able to shrug off the 100 inning workload at all - thank you Joe Torre), and Bruney certainly won't be as good. However, we should get some good work out of Britton, and we're losing Villone's 5.04 ERA. Our long relief should improve with Karstens or Rasner, and we always have Beam, Cox, and Kennard at AAA. And of course, none of this takes in to account what Phil Hughes could potentially do.

In sum, I think that our pitching has improved over last season. We allowed 767 runs last season, and Boston allowed 825. I think that we could easily cut 30-40 runs off that number, if not more.

If the Yankees are a 930-950 run scored and 720-740 run allowed team, we'll win 100 games at least. The question is: how much have the Red Sox improved?

Let's assume for a minute that Matzusaka exceeds expectations. Let's assume that he has a year roughly equal to C.C. Sabathia's 2006. He'll be worth about 60-70 runs. I don't think that Matzusaka is any better than what Mussina or Wang did in 2006, but I'll concede this one for the sake of an argument. Let's assume that Beckett improves to at least the league average, cutting another 10-20 runs off the Red Sox scoreboard. Then of course we have to take in to account Papelbon's move, because Papelbon was incredible last season. Even with him pitching more innings, I can't see Papelbon improving on his 92 runs created last season. He'll cancel out Beckett's improvements. Schilling is getting old and should also get a at least 10 runs or so worse. We'll even give Boston a general pitching improvement rating of +30 for all the little additions that I haven't thought of. Boston's defense is going to suffer a the loses of Nixon and Gonzalez, costing them a bare minimum of 15 runs. I think that I am being very generous, and Boston looks to improve by 55-85 runs allowed this season, which still isn't as good as the Yankees.

On offense, Boston would need to make up a lot of ground in order to beat the Yankees. Dustin Pedroia projects to be marginally better than Mark Loretta, maybe 5-10 runs. Drew will be a big improvement over Nixon/Pena/Hinske, about 30 runs. Julio Lugo wasn't very good last season, but he's still a 30 run improvement over Gonzalez. That comes out to 65-70 runs in improvement, which would make the Red Sox a 885-890 run team.

The result? The Yankees look like a 100 run team and the Red Sox like a 92-95 win team. If things break the Red Sox's way and the Yankees get unlucky, both teams could be looking at the 96-97 win range. If the luck evens out, it's no contest. And honestly, I haven't accounted for a lot of things that are in favor of the Yankees, including the potential play of Phil Hughes, gains off the Yankee bench, the regression of Wily Mo Pena, the injury history of J.D. Drew, the potential regression of Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell, and of course the significantly worse Boston bullpen. If I had to make a prediction today, I'd say that Boston wins 93 games and the Yankees win 100.

Next up: Work in Progress Daniel McCutchen.

Merry Christmas

I hope you all have a family-filled and happy holiday. I've been so busy in preparation for the season that I have been unable to update this site. We will in fact be switching over to "Potential Pinstripes" before the New Year.

Sometime before the switch I will post my next profile on Work in Progress Daniel McCutchen.

I will also be addressing these (irrational) fears about the Red Sox additions that I've been hearing in a post later today.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Name - You Vote

Yeah, it's probably time to rename the blog. From posts on this blog and talking to others, it has quickly become clear to me that the "Fire Joe Torre" name has run it's course. The focus of the blog has shifted from the days when I would list the amount of money left on Torre's contract to a more general Yankees/descriptive minor league type of content. So, I've narrowed the name of the blog down to two possibilities, with the help of the fine folks at the Yankee Pride Boards.

1. Cashman's Crops (or, alternatively, Cash's Crops, what do you guys think?)
2. Pinstripe Potentials (or, alternatively, Potential Pinstripes)

I'd like your input. Which is the better name? Should I trash the names in favor of something more broad? Thoughts?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Works in Progress: Justin Christian

Age: 26
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 190 lbs
Drafted: Signed in 2004 out of Independent League River City
Position: 2b/CF
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Tools: Justin Christian is fast. Very fast. Faster than a speeding bullet. Christian uses his speed to get on base, steal bases, and play excellent defense. The good news? He has a lot more than just speed! Most 80 speed guys would make Luis Castillo look like a slugger. Christian? Nope! He actually has an average amount of power. He has a short and compact swing that allows him to drive balls to all fields and put the ball in play. He projects to strike out only 70-75 times per season, which gives him plenty of opportunities to leg out ground balls. He used to play 2nd base, but a weak arm got him a ticket for centerfield, where his 80 speed was put to use. He is a plus defender at the position.

Performance: Christian was one of a half dozen signings that the Yankees found in independent leagues a few years ago. They did their scouting well, finding that Christian had overcome his college-day woes to become a lethal threat at the plate and on the basepaths. Christian hit .450/.518/.700 in 30 games for River City, which could get a lot of people's attention. He stole 26 games while only being caught twice. The Yankees sent Christian to Staten Island, where he put up an indifferent .274/.336/.438 line, with 14 stolen bases and 4 CS in 50 games. Christian would come in to his own in 2005, hitting .303/.366/.466 with 55 stolen bases, only 5 CS, and 11 home runs in 125 games between Tampa and Charleston. He was sent to Trenton this season, where he would meet his first stumbling block in his professional career, hitting .276/.341/.394 in 129 games. He started the season off very slow, hitting .253/.316/.330 in his first three months. However, Christian adjusted, hitting .287/.354/.379 in July and .321/.392/.554 in August. He stole 68 bases while being caught only 13 times.

Health: Christian had major rotator cuff problems in college, but he has since overcome his injury woes. In the prime of his life, Justin Christian is completely healthy.

2007 Outlook: Christian will be sent to Scranton, where he will be high on the Yankee's outfield depth charts. Christian will try to prove that his late-season adjustment to more advanced pitchers was for real. A good deal of his future will be determined by how much power is able to hit for in Scranton. If he can maintain a slugging percentage of about .400, he could very well be a valueable major league starting centerfielder. If it dips back down to the .350 or lower range, he may not be more than a 25th man.

Comparison: Scott Podsednik. I think that Christian's career path could very well mirror Podsednik's. When Podsednik is hitting well, taking his walks, and driving a few balls to the outfield, he is a very good player. When he's off by just a little, he is a glorified pinch runner who is a liability with the bat. We'll have a better idea about which version Justin will be by the middle of 2007.

My Take: I probably should have included Christian on my top-30 prospect list. I have never been a big fan of stolen bases as the primary weapon of a prospect, but I think that Christian brings something special to the table. There are two different kinds of stolen base threats in my mind. The first are 95% of speedsters out there; guys like Derek Jeter, Luis Castillo, Bobby Abreu, or Alfonso Soriano. These are very fast players who are good at picking up on a pitcher's move. They can steal 25-45 bases per year, but most of their stolen bases are stolen off the pitcher. If the pitcher isn't paying attention to them, they go. They are opportunistic. Then there are the 5% of speedsters who have the instincts and legs to steal a base when everybody knows that they are going. I'd say that Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes, Dave Roberts, Corey Patterson, and Ichiro Suzuki are probably the only MLB players who meet this standard. Scott Podsednik did a few years ago, but not since he injured his hamstring in 2005. These are the guys who can really throw a team and a pitcher off every time that they are on the basepaths. I think that Christian has that kind of ability. He is part of an elite group of prospects. However, he also has the ability to get on base at an above average rate and drive enough balls to the outfield to leg out some doubles and triples. On top of it all, he plays plus defense. He probably won't ever get a chance to start without some sort of catastrophic injury, but he'll be a valueable bench player until age slows him down.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Yankee Fan Club Radio

My interview with Ty and Uncle Joe on Yankee Fan Club Radio is currently airing. If you miss it, it is also available via podcast. These guys have an excellent radio show that I highly recommend.

Topics that we talked (the show was prerecorded) included Joe Torre, the proposed Melky Cabrera trade, Phil Hughes, Tyler Clippard, Humberto Sanchez, Dellin Betances, Joba Chamberlain, Eric Duncan, and more.

I really didn't articulate why this blog is called the "Fire Joe Torre Blog" well. My long time readers know this, but the title of the blog is not designed to drum up interest (in fact, I wonder sometimes if it drives people away from the site). The origin of this blog was as a "voice of reason" against Joe Torre. However, I really enjoyed writing the blog throughout the season and I began to write about all things Yankees. My passion in baseball had always been the minor leagues, and I began to write periodic and general updates on the minor leagues, and enjoyed every second of it. When the offseason hit, I couldn't very easily keep writing soley about Torre and the MLB Yankees without getting repetitive, so I decided to start writing about Yankee prospects.

It took off from there. My readership ballooned. Clearly, my readers wanted to hear more about the Yankees, and so I shifted the focus of the blog.

I'd like to know what you think. Should I change the name of the blog? Should this blog be 90% minor leagues when the season starts? Should I keep it at 50/50 Minor/Minor leagues? What do you like about the blog in general? What do you dislike?

Thanks for reading. Next up: Work in Progress Justin Christian

Edit/Update - Blogger dumped my comments section when I upgraded the template. I'm working right now to restore Haloscan. Hopefully we don't lose all of the comments from previous posts. Stay tuned. 2nd Update - Reverted back to the old template. Comments should work again.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Works in Progress: Brett Smith

Age: 23 (24 next August)
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 220 lbs
Drafted: 2nd Round in 2004 out of the University of California-Irvine
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: Smith throws a fastball around 90-93 with a little bit of tail sink when he is throwing it right, thanks to his height. When his mechanics get out of whack, it straightens out. His performance usually follows when his fastball straights out. He also uses his height to sink down a very effective 80 mph changeup, which has been his bread and butter since college. He left college with a decent slider and curveball, but he only throws the curveball right now. It's about the same speed as the changeup and gets him a few strikeouts, although it's an average pitch. Smith pitches to contact and induces a decent amount of ground balls (1.66 g/f in 2006).

Command: Brett Smith has average control and command. He lives at the knees. His deceptive height and sinking arsenal keep batters from teeing off on his 90 mph fastball, but also lead to about 3 walks per 9 innings. He keeps his pitch count down by pitching to contact, but that also makes him very hittable.

Health: One of Smith's big assets is his superb health record. He pitched two 100+ inning seasons in college and then has followed it up with two 140+ inning seasons in the minors. At 23, Smith has passed the period in his career where arm injuries develop. I put a lot of stock in a healthy pitcher.

Performance: Smith had a very good college career, culminating with a 2.54 ERA junior year where he struck out 113 in 113 innings. He earned himself a 2nd round draft pick, but didn't sign until after the 2004 season was over. He spent 2004 between Tampa and Charleston, where he combined for an ERA of 4.67. It wasn't an entirely unsucessful year, as he managed to strike out 95 and walk just 31 in 140.2 innings. The strikeouts weren't encouraging, but the Yankees bet that they would eventually come. His control had actually improved since college. Smith spent all of 2006 in Tampa, where he had a pretty good year. He led the league in innings with 158 and was 5th in strikeouts with 119. However, his control went from excellent to average with 56 walks. His ERA was good at 3.81, but that may be decieving. Smith struggled at home, posting a 4.85 ERA. His ERA was 3.01 away from home. I really don't think that the ballpark was the reason behind this, but it is a plausible theory. Smith's mechanical problems may have surfaced in front of the home crowd. My guess is that it was just dumb luck that his problems happened to occur at home.

Comparison: It's a hard one, but I'd say Jon Garland when the year isn't 2005. Garland is a tall pitcher who creates a lot of sink, pitching to contact and eating innings. Garland relies more on a breaking pitch than Smith, but besides that they are very similar pitchers.

My Take: I'm not sure what to think about Smith. I think that he won't survive the major leagues with a WHIP of 1.40. He walks a few too many. If he can get his walks down from the 60-70 range and back in to the 45-55 range, I think that he'll manage to eat innings at the major league level. He's still only 23 years old and will get a crack at Trenton in 2007. I think that Smith will either be a 7th starter in the Yankee organization or a 5th starter on someone else's team. There are just too many higher ceiling arms in front of him. Still, a young innings eater will have value to the major league team. He should be ready for a trade or call up by the time he turns 25, in August of 2008. I think that he is a fairly safe bet to at least be some kind of below average major league starter.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I must apologize for the lack of updates on this site. Usually I'm dedicated to adding something meaningful every day. Unfortunately, I'm about to go take my second of four final exams. Hang in there. I will have a profile of the Work in Progress Brett Smith up by the weekend.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kind of Cool

I will be appearing on the weekly broadcast of on Sunday, December 17th between 6 and 7 PM. We will be discussing this blog and the Yankee minor league system.

The radio broadcast has seen people like John Sterling, Jayson Stark, Ken Rosenthal, Alan Schwarz, Ken Davidoff, and several coaches from the Yankee organization appear on it's airwaves. The broadcast is also available via podcast.

Needless to say, I am excited for this opportunity.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Up and Coming: Gerardo Rodriguez

Age: 19
Height: 6'1"
Height: 195 lbs
Drafted: Signed as an international free agent in 2005
Position: 1st Base
Throws: Right
Bats: Right

Tools: Rodriguez is very, very raw, but he can hit. He's so raw that there isn't a whole lot of scouting information on him, but he is reputed to be talented. He's no base stealer, but he is athletic enough. He should be able to hold down 1st base fairly well once he adjusts to the position. Rodriguez used to be a catcher, but for some reason (I don't have any reports on his defensive abilities) he was switched to 1st base. His main tool is power. Reports are slim, but Rodriguez may be a 60 power guy. He really good at getting the ball in the air, which will keep his average up a lot of strikeouts.

Performance: Rodriguez is very young, and because of that he has played only one season in the minor leagues. He hit what is at first glance an unimpressive .285/.342/.445 line. However, one must adjust for context. lits his park adjusted line at .321/.375/.496. The Gulf Coast League is probably the hardest in baseball to find power, both because of enviromental factors and the youth of the prospects involved. Rodriguez also hit for significantly more power when away from his home park. Regardless, Rodriguez was likely the best position player on the team. However, he does have his weaknesses. Rodriguez struck out quite a bit, King 34 times in 38 games.

Health: Gerardo is too young to say anything substantial about his health.

2007 Outlook: Gerardo impressed a lot of people in 2006. He hit 3 home runs and 13 doubles in 2006, which is equal to 55 doubles and 13 home runs during a full 162 game season. He'll head to Charleston to try and turn some of those doubles in to long bombs. Now that he is playing 1st instead of catcher, he can concentrate on hitting. He'll be able to put on some more muscle. He'll learn the new position. He is ticketed for Charleston. He could very well be in Tampa by year's end.

Comparison: Damned if I know. I guess I could see some of Nick Swisher in Rodriguez, but who knows at this point.

My Take: There is precious little information about Rodriguez available. He's a young player who is very well thought of by the Yankees. He is a 1st baseman with tons of power. He had a great season in the Gulf Coast League. He won't turn 20 until next October. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to go on. I did not include him in my top 50 because of his lack of a a minor league pedigree. He could very well run up the charts next year. My prediction? 25+ home runs and 35+ doubles next season. As a 1st baseman, he'll have to put up those kinds of numbers.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Andy Pettitte

Did anyone expect Andy Pettitte to land a 16 million dollar contract two months ago? I certainly did not. Of course, I didn't envision Ted Lilly being paid more than Mariano Rivera either.

The contract with Pettitte is a 1 year deal with a player option for the same amount in 2008. Pettitte reportedly has a gentleman's agreement with Cashman not to exercise his option if he is injured.

I like the Pettitte signing, a lot. If Pettitte is healthy, he is an effective pitcher. A very effective pitcher. Of course, health is a problem.

SG over at RLYW posted an excellent projection for Pettitte next year. He predicts 194 innings, a 4.30 ERA, and 31 starts for Pettitte.

I think that Andy is capable of better, but that is a pretty safe prediction. A 4.30 ERA may not sound great, because it isn't, but it is above average. Hell, that might be 18 win stuff with the Yankee's offense.

Any short term deal is a good deal for the Yankees right now. We won't need these expensive, barely above average free agents in a couple of years. For now, Pettitte will pitch in to the 7th and 8th innings for the most part every 5th day and keep the Yankees in the game. It's easy to forget that Andy is only 34 years old.

What does this deal mean? Well, it means one of a few things. Pavano could be gone (the likely conclusion at this point). Randy Johnson could be injured worse than we think. Or, more likely, the Yankees just don't trust their farm to step in to the 5th starter role. Our starting rotation will probably look like this on April 1st:

Chien-Ming Wang
Mike Mussina
Andy Pettitte
Kei Igawa
Randy Johnson (He'll miss a few starts, but a 5th starter won't be needed for a few weeks)

Those are five guys (maybe except for Randy Johnson) who are all pretty good bets to put up ERAs between 3.80 and 4.30, and a lot of innings. All things considered, that's pretty good.

There have been talks about sending Pavano to Colorado, Pittsburgh, and San Franscisco. I think that if we subsidize his contract a little bit, Pavano will be a nice little trading chip. I mean, Jason Marquis just got a payout larger than what is remaining on Pavano's contract.

At this point, it's impossible to determine what the bullpen will look like, but my best guess is:

Mariano Rivera, 1.80 ERA
Kyle Farnsworth, 4.36 ERA
Chris Britton (although he has options, I am betting that he stays in the majors)
Scott Proctor, 3.52 ERA
Mike Myers, 3.23 ERA
Damaso Marte (rumored trade for Kevin Thompson), 3.70 ERA
Darrell Rasner (long relief), 4.43 ERA

Jeff Karstens, who still has plenty of options, will be sent down to Scranton while Brian Bruney will be traded away. I included their 2006 ERAs to point out how effective this bullpen would probably be. I think that Farnsworth and Britton are also better than their 2006 ERAs.

Pitching in Scranton will be:

Phil Hughes (first call up)
Humberto Sanchez
Jeff Karstens
Steve White
Tyler Clippard

J.B. Cox
T.J. Beam
Jose Veras
Jeff Kennard
Sean Henn (if he clears waivers)
Charlie Manning
Justin Pope
Colter Bean (although the Yankees have him starting lately)

I think that this is going to be a big season for New York Yankee pitching. Why? Last year we were pretty good - in the top third of the majors. However, we lost a lot of runs to guys like Shawn Chacon (7.00 ERA), Tanyon Sturtze (7.59 ERA), Octavio Dotel (10.80 ERA), Ron Villone (5.01 ERA), Aaron Small (8.46 ERA), Sidney Ponson (10.47 ERA), T.J. Beam (8.50 ERA, he'll improve), Kris Wilson (8.64 ERA), and Scott Erickson (7.94 ERA). Joe Torre somehow let those guys combine to pitch 165 innings! It wasn't entirely his fault, because the organization had few average depth guys for him to work with (although he failed to use guys like Jose Veras and Colter Bean, who could no doubt be better than these scrubs). Instead of Sidney Ponson and Kris Wilson, we have a near-endless group of good prospects to take the reigns. I really believe that Sanchez, Hughes, Cox, and maybe even Beam could step in almost immediately and be better than anyone on the staff other than Mariano Rivera.

Tomorrow I profile the 19 year-old 1st baseman Geraldo Rodriguez.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Work in Progress: P.J. Pilittere

Age: 25 (just turned)
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: 13th Round in 2004 out of Cal State University
Position: Catcher
Hits: Right

Tools: No one is going to confuse Pilittere with a supreme athlete. He isn't fast. He doesn't have a particularly strong arm. His bat isn't great. He has gap power at best. Pilittere is the rare baseball player who may drill out a career for himself with his final tool - his mind. Granted, there is no way for me to independently varify if the reports about Pilittere's mental abilities are true, but there does seem to be a general consensus: P.J. has a strategic mind. It has benefitted him at the plate despite his lack of physical gifts and talent, and it has helped him in handling pitchers. Every publication that is available to me raves about how he makes pitchers better. Again, this isn't something that I can verify.

Performance: P.J. was on a couple of radars as a future no-hit backup catcher. Unfortunately, the knock against him was that he lacked any incredible defensive skills - he is above average behind the plate at best. He didn't hit much - .215/.252/.264 and .250/.320/.381 at Staten Island between 2004 and 2005. Since he was getting old, and the Yankees were incredibly thin on catchers (and still are), P.J. was pushed to Tampa, which it turns out was a good move. P.J. hit .302/.355/.412 in his first full season of professional ball, striking out 24 times and walking 20 times in 291 at bats. He showed decent power with 5 home runs, 2 triples and 14 doubles, and recieved boatloads of praise from Tampa pitchers. The Yankees, probably with the intent of rushing him to a backup position in 2008, decided to send him to Arizona to get more playing time against tougher competition. P.J. responded to the challenge, hitting .394/.444/.545 in a very small sample of 33 at bats (Catchers always recieve sparse playing time in the AFL). He hit 1 home run, 2 doubles, walked three times and struck out 5 times. For 2006, that brings his final line to .311/.366/.429. He also hit .373 with RISP. Everything considered, that is a pretty good line.

Health: Pilittere has never had any health problems. He's a pretty average sized catcher and shouldn't have any age or weight related concerns in the near future.

Comparison: I was tempted to say Joe Girardi at first, but I thought about it and the two don't really resemble one another. P.J. has a little more bat, while Joe was better behind the plate and was more athletic. Brad Ausmus is a better comparison. I'm not sure that Pilittere will start as many games as Ausmus, but their levels of performance will be fairly similar.

My Take: I'm not sure what to make of Pilittere. He's no doubt the only decent Yankee catcher who has played higher than Charleston. He has the abilities to be some kind of major league backup one day, in part due to having a marginally better bat than the Wil Nieves/Sal Fasano brand of catchers. He might have a short prime period where he can be an average starting catcher. I can see a lot of .270/.340/.380 lines in his future, which isn't totally unacceptable for your catcher. We'll see how he handles the high minor leagues, as his AFL line is too small of a sample to really tell much. He's got the reputation for a fierce leader and near player-coach. If he fails as a prospect, we might see him resurface as a minor league manager or scout within the organization.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Salvage Projects: Matt DeSalvo

Age: 26 (just turned)
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 170 lbs
Drafted: Undrafted Free Agent in 2003 out of Marietta College (Division III)
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: DeSalvo is a weird pitcher. He throws a 92-93 sinking fastball. He's 26 years old. He's got a small frame. Why is he still a prospect? Because he throws every other pitch in the book! He throws a changeup, curveball, slider, forkball, 4-seamer and 2-seamer. Only the changeup is a particularly good pitch (It's up there with Marquez's), but the other pitches are all servicable. He uses the changeup to strike people out.

Command: He has trouble repeating his mechanics with his fastball, leading to a lot of walks. Even when his mechanics are on, he likes to work outside of the strike zone, leading to more walks. He kept them in control throughout 2003, 2004, and 2005, only posting sub-standard ERAs when his back was injured. What happened in 2006? DeSalvo started in AAA and posted a 7.58 ERA, walking 34 in 38 innings. He walked 59 in 78 innings after returning to AA. DeSalvo is a smart guy who often gets made fun of by his teammates for reading books all day. Even if his career in baseball doesn't work out, DeSalvo will probably find some sort of job as a biologist.

Health: Besides the brief back injury in 2004, DeSalvo has a clean bill of health. At 26 years old, his arm is fully developed and capable of handling big innings. There has been speculation of a recent injury in 2006, but no word of injury has surfaced. I'll offer my explanation for the problems later.

Performance: DeSalvo set huge strikeout records while playing Division III ball, holding both the single season and overall strikeout records (205 and 603). He actually spent 5 years in college, as he was forced to sit out one year. He didn't get a lot of attention at the draft, and the Yankees got him without having to use a pick. He proceded to blow away the low minor leagues, posting ERAs of 1.84, 0.82, and 1.43 in his first three stops in all three A ball leagues. He came down with a back injury shortly after being promoted to AA in 2004, posting an ERA north of 6.00 in 27 innings. DeSalvo jumped on to prospect radar screens in 2005, when he dominated AA with an ERA of 3.02, striking out 151 in 149 innings. He walked about 4 per 9 however. He was 24 years old and it seemed like he was on the verge of breaking out in to the majors. The Yankees put him on the 40-man and invited him to the major league spring training. He was excellent, leading many (including myself) to advocate his inclusion on the big league roster. It was assumed that he would be the first call up when someone went down with an injury. Unfortunately, something happened. We don't really know what. His control evaded him. His velocity dropped. He just couldn't repeat his delivery. He had an ERA for the season over 6.00, and all of the sudden his big league future seems up in the air as guys like Phil Hughes and Tyler Clippard surpassed him.

Comparison: David Cone. They are both very smart guys who would throw any pitch to a hitter at any time. They both have similar body types. If DeSalvo had been drafted out of High School, they might have followed similar career paths. The Yankees will continue to try to get something out of DeSalvo despite the struggles because he has the potential to be a lesser Cone. He isn't a low-ceiling prospect.

Outlook: DeSalvo will probably head to Trenton again in 2007. He's way behind in the depth charts now, which may put addititonal pressure on him. A good start may see him included in a trade. If he doesn't recover his stride, he risks being labeled as a career minor leaguer.

My Take: I liked DeSalvo a lot entering this season, but I made the mistake of ignoring his walk rate. He's definately got a lot of strikeouts in him, but he can't put so many people on base. He's already succeeded in the high minor leagues, so I think we can discount 2006 as any kind of statement on his baseball abilities. Two things went wrong for DeSalvo. First off, the Yankees messed with his mechanics. They were trying to get some more velocity and control out of Matt by simplifying his delivery. Why they made the decision to change a successful pitcher's approach at 25 years old is beyond me. Beyond that, the DeSalvo suffered from unspecified "mental problems" throughout the season. What could they be? They could come from an emotional let down after not making the roster in Spring Training, or he could be having girl problems or something. I'm not going to pretend that I know what his problems are. 26 isn't too old for a prospect, but 27 is. If he's not in AAA by the end of the year, DeSalvo is in trouble. He's taking up a spot on the 40 man roster and could find himself on waivers. If he does succeed, he's certainly capable of a 3.80-4.20 ERA range. He'll be fun to watch too.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Works in Progress: Chase Wright

Age: 23
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 190 lbs
Drafted: 3rd Round in 2001 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Left

Stuff: Wright used to throw a lot harder, but right now he throws an 89-91 mph two seam fastball. He throws it from a very deceptive three-quarter angle. The fastball has a lot of movement to it and he uses it to get a significant amount of ground ball outs. He also throws a decent changeup, at about 78-80 mph. The changeup has a surprising amount of sink to it which is his go-to pitch. Wright has been trying everything he possibly can to find some sort of successful breaking pitch. He has tried throwing both a conventional 12-6 77-78 mph curveball and a much slower 70 mph loopy curve. Neither has worked with any success.

Command: Wright will never walk people like Carlos Silva. He has average control at best, although he has learned a thing or two about pitching. He constantly pounds the bottom of the strike zone with his two seamer, without a ton of precision. When he misses, he misses out of the zone. He is going to walk 3-4 per 9 innings in the major leagues, which will limit his utility. That said, he manages to get by despite his command problems.

Health: Wright struggled to stay healthy almost immediately after being drafted. He was not able to pitch more than 100 innings from 2002 until 2005. Part of that was ineffectiveness, but Wright suffered from a series of minor growing pains (the kind of thing that are more the norm than completely healthy seasons for young pitchers). His command was significantly worse than present during this time, which prevented him from putting together any effective innings in the lower A ball leagues. His velocity started north of 93 and ended where it presently is today.

Performance: After these years of terrible play, Wright was still a sleeper pick on a lot of people's radars. Lefties get a lot of chances, and Wright still had the stuff to show promise. He put together a decent campaign in Charleston in 2005, posting an ERA of 3.75 in 144 innings. He struck out 110 and walked 69. Wright had found himself a nitch. He allowed a lot of guys to get on base, but was able to succeed by showing an uncanny ability to prevent the extra base hit. His high walk rate prevented him from winning a spot in the crowded Tampa rotation, so Chase was moved to the bullpen. He pitched excellent, posting a 2.53 ERA in 32 innings through June. He then moved back to the bullpen when the demotion of Zach Kroenke opened up a spot. He then did something very special: he posted an ERA of 1.64 in his next 87.2 innings. For the season he struck out 100 while walking 42 in 119.2 innings on the season. Due to this performance, the Yankees could not hide him from the Rule V draft anymore, and he was added to the 40 man roster a few weeks ago.

Comparison: I have never seen a pitcher who fits his description. Maybe you guys can help me out. Bruce Chen doesn't throw a 2 seamer, but he seems as close as it gets.

Outlook: Wright will head to Trenton, where his two pitch combination will be tested by more advanced hitters. From there, he could very well enter the Yankee depth charts in terms of both starting pitching and the major league bullpen.

My Take: Wright is certainly interesting. He didn't miss my top 30 list by much. I am not at all convinced that Wright can remain a starter in the big leagues. He's a lefty, but he has no sort of breaking pitch and walks a ton of batters. That said, I think that he could very well carve out a little niche for himself. He killed lefties in 2006, getting Chien-Ming Wang-like ground ball results (over 3 per air out) and over a strikeout per inning agains them (29 in 24.2 innings against lefties). He gets righties out, but destroys lefties. Left handed starting pitching is a rarity (especially in the Yankee system), so the Yankees may resist the change. His 2007 will determine a lot.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bernie Williams, 25 Men, and Newsday

I'm about to leave for the weekend (well, I'll be back late tomorrow), and so I'd like to talk a little bit about the actual New York Yankees. Yes, I still do that sometimes. Don't worry, coming sometime on Sunday will be the prospect profile for sleeper pick Work in Progress Chase Wright.

There has been a lot of debate recently about Bernie Williams. Bernie hit .281/.332/.436 last season in 453 plate appearances. He was actually marginally useful, mostly because he hit lefties to a .323/.387/.549 clip. Conversely, he couldn't touch a right handed pitcher.

I think that before we tackle the question of "Should we resign Bernie?", we need to examine what role Bernie would play on this team. Baseball is unique in that it takes a large team of good players to win games. It's not like basketball where a Michael Jordan or Shaq can dominate a game and play 90% of it. It's not even a game like hockey where Martin Brodeur can win game after game all by himself even if his team can't score or play defense. The best batters get only about 1/9 of the playing time, the best fielders see about 1/7 of balls in play, and the best pitchers only pitch about 220 innings. It is a game that requires a lot of roster depth in order to win.

Every team needs 5 starting pitcher and 9 everyday players. In addition, modern teams usually require a long man, a setup man, a closer, and at least two general middle-inning relievers. Teams need a backup catcher, extra outfielder, and usually two extra infielders at bare minimum. This leaves just two spots open for additional players on the 25 man roster. These players are usually very specialized. A team will throw in a pinch runner/defensive replacement. Sometimes a team will throw in an immobile big bat to use off the bench. A team will sometimes employ a left handed specialist who can do little else. These extra one or two spots will be used very little during the season, but their specialized role could make or break a a big game situation.

Bernie Williams would be a 25th man. He can't play suitable defense anywhere in the field. He can't hit righties. He can't run the bases well. If he were to play in the majors in 2007, the only productive way he could do so would be as a pinch hitter or platoon hitter against a left hander. He wouldn't be useful for more than 100 plate appearances or so.

Problem is, already have a 25th man. His name is Mike Myers. Myers is good for a batter or two, but that is it. He'll max out at 40 innings. There is room for him on a 25 man roster, just not a whole lot of room. They cannot both be included on the same roster.

The Yankees already have a closer, setup man, three middle relievers (Proctor, Bruney, Britton), a long man (One of Karstens or Rasner) and a left handed specialist (Myers). They are going to have a backup catcher, Melky Cabrera, Miguel Cairo or a similar backup infielder, and Andy Phillips or another backup first baseman on the bench. The roster is full.

Of course, I would rather Kevin Thompson be on the roster, but we'll forget that for now. Problem is, Newsday is now reporting that the Yankees are thinking about carrying 13 pitchers. This would mean a bench of (probably) Andy Phillips, Miguel Cairo (or someone like him), and a backup catcher to go along with a bullpen of Rivera, Farnsworth, Proctor, Bruney, Britton, Myers, Karstens/Rasner, and probably another lefty like Ron Villone. This is ridiculous.

Newsday cites Yankee concerns for the workload of key relievers. God damn it! Why can every other major league team get along with 11 or maybe 12 pitchers? Why does a bullpen with Mariano Rivera need 12 more people to help him out? Want to know why? Because Joe Torre doesn't have a clue. He has worn out Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Ron Villone, Steve Karsay, and maybe Scott Proctor (word is he may be switching to starter due to elbow problems). He almost wore out Mariano Rivera back in 1996. Why does he need 13 pitchers? Because he doesn't have the strategic mind to use his bench players?

Hell, Joe Torre doesn't use his 12 pitchers. Mike Myers went for two or three week stretches without being used. Octavio Dotel never got a chance to try and work himself back in to form, despite an 8+ game lead. Joe Torre uses four people in the bullpen. He uses his favorite lefty, Mariano Rivera (but only in very select situations. I mean, why would you want to use Mariano when the game is on the line in the 7th and 8th innings?), his setup guy (who he will put Mariano-like trust in, because "that's his inning"), and his annual abused righty. Thats it. Everybody else sits and watches.

If the Yankees wanted to change the way that modern baseball strategy works, then 13 pitchers wouldn't neccessarily be a bad idea. I've had some theories in the past about different ways to use the bullpen. However, I'd wager my laptop that Joe Torre isn't planning some sort of redefinition of the way we see relief pitching. He just wants an additional crutch to lean against.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Top 30 Prospects list

1. Phil Hughes (SP, 20, AA)
2. Jose Tabata (OF, 18, A-)
3. Joba Chamberlain (SP, 22, A+)
4. Tyler Clippard (SP, 21, AA)
5. Dellin Betances (SP, 18, Rk)
5a. Humberto Sanchez (SP, 23, AAA)*
6. J.B. Cox (RP, 22, AA)
7. Ian Kennedy (SP, 22, A+)
8. Christian Garcia (SP, 20, A+)
9. Jesus Montero (C, 16, Rk)
10. Eric Duncan (3b, 21, AA)
11. Austin Jackson (CF, 19, A-)
12. Jeff Marquez (SP, 22, A+)
13. Brett Gardner (CF, 23, AA)
14. T.J. Beam (RP, 26, AAA)
15. Steve White (SP, 24, AAA)
16. Marcos Vechinoacci (3b, 20, A-)
17. Mark Melancon (RP, 21, A+)**
17a. Kevin Whelan (RP, 22, A+)*
18. Jeff Karstens (SP, 24, MLB)
19. Angel Reyes (LHSP, 19, Rk/A-)
20. George Kontos (SP, 21, SS/A-)
21. Zach McAllister (SP, 18, Rk)
22. Tim Norton (SP, 23, SS/A-)
23. Colin Curtis (CF, 21, SS/A-)
24. Mitchill Hilligoss (3b/SS, 21, SS/A-)
25. Cody Ehlers (1b, 24, A+)
26. Tim Battle (OF, 20, A-)
27. Francisco Castillo (SP, 20, A-)
28. David Robertson (RP, 21, NCAA)
29. Bronson Sardinha (OF, 23, AAA)
30. Alan Horne (SP, 23, A+)

* - Traded after initial rankings
** - Injured after initial rankings

(This post will be available on the side bar for your convienent reference)

*Note* - This is not the end of prospect profiles at Fire Joe Torre! On the horizon will the following series of profiles:

Works in Progress - Prospects in Tampa, Trenton, and Columbus who are starting to get a little long in the tooth but still have the possibility of a productive major league career.

Up and Coming - Guys who were too young to make the top 30 list, but could very well break out next season and become top-30 guys.

Salvage Projects - Guys whose potential major league careers have imploded due to injury or ineffectiveness but still may have a comeback left in them.

Prospect Profile: Phil Hughes (#1)

Age: 20
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 220 lbs
Drafted: 1st Round in 2004 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Hughes would be an effective pitcher with a 90 mph fastball. That said, Phil Hughes is going to be more than an effective pitcher. He is capable of throwing 96-97 mph, but prefers to sit comfortably at 93-94 or 94-95 on a good day in order to command it better. That said, he is capable of reaching back and throwing a located fastball at 97 if the situation commands it. He locates his fastball with the best of them. Think Curt Schilling as a comparison for the fastball.

Curveball: Two years ago, Hughes did not throw a curveball. Maybe he knew how to toss one on the side in the backyard, but he couldn't throw it in a game. What happened? Nardi Contreras told him to shelf his slider and use a curveball instead. What did Phil Hughes do? He almost immediately began to throw one of the best if not the best curveball in the minor leagues. It is a deadly strikeout weapon that lands on it's spot every time, with a solid 1-7 break.

Changeup: When Hughes made the decision to not throw his plus slider and instead focus all of his breaking effort on the curveball, it quickly became clear that he would need a 3rd pitch. Enter the changeup. He throws a 78-79 mph changeup fairly well, although it is not as developed as his other pitches. That will change. The Yankees put him on a constant diet of changeups throughout the 2006 season, forcing him to throw it as often as his curveball. It worked. He is still a step away from throwing the changeup in any situation (he goes to his curve with men on), but he is getting a better feel for it. Hughes would benefit from a few innings in AAA to finally nail it down without the big league pressure on him. Right now it will sometimes make hitters look foolish or sometimes fall way out of the strike zone. If Hughes' track record is at all predictive, expect him to throw it as well as he does his fastball.

Slider: While he still occassionally throws it on the side, Hughes does not throw his slider in games anymore. It used to be his signature pitch, but he has taken so well to the curveball that the Yankees see no reason to throw both. Hughes himself says that he struggles to command two different breaking balls at once.

Command: Lots of pitchers have a 65 fastball, 70 curveball, and 60 changeup. Phil Hughes compliment them with 70 control. He can put his fastball and curveball wherever he wants, in any count, without fail. He barely walks anyone. He barely leaves anything on the broader part of the plate for the home run. If a ball bounces in the dirt, he meant to do it. He has a career BB/9 ratio of 2.05 (which is roughly Mike Mussina level). He is a smart pitcher who always thinks one step ahead of the batter.

Performance: Few pitchers excell in the minor leagues to the extent that Phil Hughes has. Simply put, he has out classed his competition. He was drafted in 2004, but the Yankees decided to play it safe with their new jewel (he missed time with a stubbed toe) and only allowed him to pitch 5 innings in the GCL, where he didn't allow a run and struck out 8. An omen of things to come? Yes. He started 2005 in Charleston, where he would spend his last moments under the radar. Hughes and his new curveball showed the 19 year olds in A ball who was boss, pitching 68.2 innings to a 1.97 ERA, striking out 72 and walking 16 (and allowing just 1 HR). He earned a promotion to Tampa, where he pitched the worst baseball of his career - throwing 17.2 innings of 3.06 ERA ball, striking out 21 and walking 4 before being shut down with mild shoulder soreness. Prospect watchers, including myself, got very worried for a moment. However, word leaked out during the offseason that Hughes had simply hit the Yankee's prefered inning count for the season and was going to be shut down regardless of injury concerns.

Hughes made just about everyone's top prospect lists after this, finding himself anywhere from the 20s to the 40s. Baseball Prospectus predicted that Hughes would have a huge 2006 with their PECOTA projection system, saying that Hughes was the second most major league ready starter in the minors, to Liriano. It was predicted that Hughes could be called up from 17 innings in Tampa and post a 3.80 ERA. Hughes did indeed have a huge 2006, which most of you probably know about. He dismantled A+ ball, but struggled for a few starts in Trenton (as can be expected from a guy who had not yet turned 20). He posted a 3.99 ERA in May, which certainly startled people. Hughes then did his normal thing: adjustment. He posted an ERA of 1.29 in his final 10 starts, striking out 71 in 48.2 innings while walking 11 and not allowing a single home run. He finished the year with a single playoff start against Portland, pitching 6 innings (his leash on innings was loosened for the playoffs) while striking out 13 and walking one and allowing one earned run. His totals for the entire minor league season and playoffs were 152 innings, 182 strikouts, 35 walks, 5 home runs allowed and a 2.13 ERA. He could have pitched more innings (he rolled through batters without effort), but the Yankees kept him on a 5 inning limit for much of the season.

Health: There were concerns about Hughes' health coming in to this season. There are no longer any concerns. It became very clear that the concerns were simply the Yankees being extremely cautious with their golden arm. They have succeeded in keeping his innings at exactly where they wanted - around 100 innings in 2005 and 150 in 2006. He should be ready for 200 in 2007. There is no reason to be concerned about his health.

Ceiling: None. None at all. Hughes has the ability to be a once in a lifetime pitcher. He has the ability to be the best pitcher in the major leagues. There is nothing stopping him. There is nothing more than I can say. He won't put up Pedro Martinez 1999-2000 numbers, but besides that you can compare him to any rookie phenom that has come up and dominated in recent years. Jorge Posada said that Hughes has a better arm than anyone on the Yankees - including guys like Mariano Rivera and Randy Johnson.

Reaching Ceiling: He's nearly there. Hughes made AA hiters look like they should go back to little league. By the time he adjusted to the level, it was almost too easy for him. Minor league hitters are too easy for him. He has everything that you could possibly ask of a prospect, and he has been expertly handled by the organization.

Comparison: A healthy Mark Prior. I used the same comparison for Betances, but I need to draw a distinction. If Betances overcomes the traditional obstacles associated with any minor league pitcher drafted out of High School, he can top out at Mark Prior's level and style. Phil Hughes has indeed overcomed those obstacles and has found himself at the brink of the major leagues with Mark Prior-like performance levels and almost the exact same pitching style. They both had 95 mph fastballs. They both located their fastballs with Mussina-like precision. They both had filthy curveballs. They both throw a similar changeup. Prior posted a 2.43 ERA in 211 innings in 2003 at age 22. Hughes is capable of the same. Hopefully he will not be cursed with the same injuries (which the Yankees have done their best to prevent).

My Take: Tyler Clippard has his control. Ian Kennedy has his brain. Joba Chamberlain has his power. Christian Garcia has his curveball. Jeff Marquez has his changeup. Phil Hughes has it all. I have never seen a pitcher without a weakness in the minor leagues before I saw Phil Hughes. Usually power pitchers have a lack of control, or control pitchers lack power, or power pitchers with control lack secondary pitches, or they have injury issues, or they are 25 before they figure everything out, or they are inconsistent. Hughes has no weakness. All of his numbers would be phenominal if he was 24 years old, but Hughes put up these K/BBs, K/9s, BB/9s and ERAs as a 19/20 year old in AA. We're looking at something special folks, and he could be the ace of a new dynasty. Hughes has it all, and we're going to see that first hand when he gets called up in 2007.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kei Igawa

Looks like we won the bid on Japan's lefty Kei Igawa. It took 26 million dollars.

I'm not a big fan of bringing pitchers over from Japan. However, this is not neccessarily a bad move. Let's take a look at it.

Igawa is not D-Mat, but he isn't as far away as you might think. He has been a consistently excellent pitcher in Japan - putting up a 2.97 ERA in 2006 in 209 innings, striking out 194 (which led the league), while walking 49. Prior to 2006, he posted similar numbers, with a career ERA of 3.30, a BB/9 ratio of 2.74, and a K/9 ratio 8.64. Very solid numbers in a league which has a level of competition somewhere between AA and AAA.

He is 27 years old. He throws 88-90 with excellent control and a 72 mph changeup and a decent curveball. Nothing special, but he isn't terrible either. I am always weary of pitchers from Japan because they pitch on 5 days rest instead of 4. Igawa has always pitched a ton of innings throughout his career, but will he adjust to the shorter rest?

Why could this be a good signing? Well, Igawa doesn't have a lot of leverage in contract talks. He can either stay in Japan or go to the Yankees, and he isn't a free agent until after his 30th birthday. I can't imagine that he gets paid more than 1-2 million. The Yankees will probably offer him a 3-4 year deal at 6 million per or so. The 26 million dollar posting fee is a lot, but at least it doesn't count toward the luxery tax.

I wouldn't have made the move, but Igawa isn't going to be significantly better or worse than someone like Randy Wolf or Ted Lilly, and Igawa will come cheaper when all is said and done than them. I just wish that the Yankees would trust their farm.

This also might be a signal about Randy Johnson's health. If Johnson were to be healthy, the Yankees would have all five 2007 rotation spots filled, with Wang, Mussina, Johnson, Pavano, and Igawa. We have too many pitching prospects at the AAA level not to leave one spot open for them in Spring Training. Maybe the Yankees will just eat Johnson's contract and leave him on the DL for the year.

Prospect Profile: Jose Tabata (#2)

Age: 18
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 160 lbs
Drafted: Signed Out of Venezuela in 2005 for 500,000 dollars
Position: Outfield (Where is yet to be determined)
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Batting: Jose Tabata is all about the projection of his bat. This is one weakness that I have in evaluating prospects. I'm no scout. I can only rely on the consensus of others. The consensus is that Jose Tabata has a big league bat capable of Manny Ramirez type numbers. I doubt that to an extent, even though I do not doubt that Tabata has the ability to be a major impact player, but I do doubt his power potential. Tabata is a small baseball player. He's not Phil Rizzuto, but there is no way to get around Tabata's size. He isn't a lot smaller than Manny Ramirez, but Ramirez is a special type of player. Ramirez is a hall of fame talent who comes along once in a generation, and immediately hit a ton of home runs in the minor leagues at Tabata's age. Tabata is "built like a fire hydrant", but can he really hit 40+ home runs? I doubt it. Tabata does however have two very good skills that he shares with Manny Ramirez: near inhuman plate discipline for an 18 year old and a tremendous ability to get base hits. He will hit a ton of doubles and get his share of extra base hits. Scouts rave about his swing and his ability to keep his hands in. He'll be a batting title contender if everything turns out right.

Defense: Tabata's position is uncertain. At present, he has plus range in the outfield and an average to above average arm. He has been playing left field in Charleston. He could probably be an average centerfielder, but the Yankees played him in the corners in 2006. This was in part due to Tim Battle and Austin Jackson being in Charleston for much of the season, who don't have the bats to hold down a corner position. We'll see if the Yankees try to shift Tabata back to center, but his likely destination is probably left field. He wouldn't have a terrible arm in right field, but it would be average at best there. With hitting potential like Tabata's, position is less of a concern. Still, it would be nice if he were to end up in Centerfield for at least his prime years.

Performance: Tabata spent his age 17 season showing the Gulf Coast League who was boss, hitting .314/.382/.417 in 44 games with 22 stolen bases, 15 walks, 14 strikeouts, 3 home runs, one triple, and five doubles. The power numbers may have been down, but Tabata had a phenominal season for a 17 year old (he actually didn't turn 17 until August of that year). He immediately show toward the tops of prospect lists, but he would really prove himself in 2006 when he was sent to Charleston. During his first three months, he owned A ball hitters, hitting .321/.432/.450, all before his 18th birthday. Unfortunatly, a wrist injury began to sap his power and playing time in June, resulting in a long fade which would land him on the disabled list. He was thought to be healthy after the season ended and was sent to the DWL, where he hit .288/.431/.404 against intense competition before going down with the same wrist injury.

2007 Outlook: If he's able to play (and nothing that we've heard so far indicate the contrary) he will be sent to High A Tampa, where he will be among the youngest if not the youngest player in the league yet again. He made strides in the power department in 2006, but the Yankees will be looking for a lot of those doubles to turn in to home runs. He is going to be in a tough ballpark for hitters, so the numbers may be a little more subtle than they could be. The Yankees will probably keep him there for the entire year, unless he really blows the league away (which is certainly possible). Tabata is years ahead of schedule. Health will be an issue, which I will discuss later. If the Yankees hope to keep him at centerfield, they will have to make a move back there in 2007. Tampa should be an exciting place.

Health: This wrist issue is a major concern about Tabata. No one thought that it was serious when he left Charleston, because presumably the Yankees would have a short leash on an 18 year old. But when Tabata went down in the DWL, a lot of people (myself included) grew worried. Very little information has come out of the Yankees' organization about this, so I can only speculate, which I won't. Wrist injuries can be very tough, and statisically this one clearly hurt his play. Other health issues revolve around his frame and weight. He has a lot of growing to do, and a lot of people are speculating that he could end up with "chunky" legs. This could hurt his range in the outfield. As good as Manny Ramirez is with the bat, we don't want Tabata looking like him in the field.

Ceiling: Very high. In my opinion it is still limited due to size, but Tabata certainly has the ability to hit like an MVP candidate. If nothing goes terribly wrong, he is going to hit #3 somewhere someday for a long time. I don't think that he has the kind of ceiling that a guy like Montero has, simply for lack of power. Of course, this all changes if Tabata ends up in centerfield, where he could be on a Carlos Beltran/Vernon Wells level.

Reaching Ceiling: Tabata will have plenty of chances to fail in the coming years. He probably has at least two and a half minor league seasons to go at bare minimum, and these injury issues don't make things any better. For an 18 year old to be as high as Tabata is on everybody's radar is very special. I think that we'll see a quick rise out of Jose.

Comparison: Somewhere between Kirby Puckett and Brian Giles. Tabata is going to take more walks than Puckett (resulting in a higher batting average), but hit for less power than Brian Giles did in his prime (Giles also got on a very slow start to his career). We'll see how his home run stroke comes along in time.

My Take: Again, Tabata is the kind of prospect that my methods have trouble analyzing. His statistical pedigree is strong, especially when he remembers to take his walks. That said, I have to rely on a lot of people agreeing about his hitting projection. I think that position will determine a lot about Tabata's future. If he goes to a corner, I think that Tabata will have some all star years but won't be considered a top-5 player at his position. I think that Tabata could put up numbers not all that far from Bernie William's numbers in centerfield, or at the very least hit .310/.400/.520 every year. A year from now, we'll have a better picture of where Jose Tabata is going. I'd place my bets on a more optimistic outcome than otherwise.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Prospect Profile: Joba Chamberlain (#3)

Age: 22
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 230
Drafted: 1st Supplemental Round in 2006 out of University of Nebraska
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Chamberlain is a big guy. He has a big fastball. Chamberlain throws 94-97 with plenty of life. There were reports out of Hawaii that he was being clocked at 98-99. Chamberlain's weight problem prevented him in the past from maintaining his ideal fastball throughout the later stages of each start, but he has whipped himself into shape over the last two years. More on his weight later. Chamberlain locates his fastball with the best of them.

Changeup: Chamberlain has an average 80-82 mph changeup. The Yankees are working on it and believe that it has a chance to become significantly better. He has throw it a lot in Hawaii, using it to get ahead in the counts.

Slider: Chamberlain has an above average to plus slider, which is his strikeout pitch. A typical power pitcher, you can imagine how he uses it. He has command with it, rarely leaving it up in the zone (although, like most pitchers, he can't really get a called strike with it). It is his best secondary pitch.

Curveball: Chamberlain has an above average curveball. Chamberlain may or may not abandon it as his primary "slow" pitch in favor the changeup. Lately the Yankees have been encouraging curveballs over sliders for their high school draft picks, so we'll see how Chamberlain goes.

Command: Chamberlain has plus control, but not plus command. Of course, he has the advantage of throwing 97. He'll pound the zone for strikes, but won' tbe able to hit a one inch box like Kennedy or Clippard, but he won't walk the ballpark either. Unlike those two, Chamberlain can afford to lay the occasional fastball over the middle of the plate. He illustrated his control in the HBL this winter, striking out 46 while somehow walking 3.

Performance: Chamberlain does not have an Ian Kennedy resume. He played for one year for a Division II college, weighing close to 290 pounds. He had a strong fastball but not much else, posting an ERA ove 5.00. He transfered to Nebraska, and set about improving his weight. The results were excellent, and he pitched 118.2 innings of of 2.81 ERA ball. He struck out 130 while walking just 33 and allowing just 7 home runs. He entered 2006 as a top-5 pitching prospect in the draft, but a triceps injury scared a lot of people away. His performance suffered early on, although he would eventually recovery and end the season well. He pitched 89.1 innings of 3.93 ERA ball, striking out 102 and walking 34. He allowed 8 home runs. The injury scared scared off a lot of people, causing Chamberlain to sink to the Yankees at the 41st pick. He signed late, preventing him from pitching in Staten Island. Instead, the Yankees sent him to Hawaii, where he blossomed. He pitched 37.2 innings of 2.63 ERA ball, posting that mind blowing strikeout to walk ratio of 46:3. The hitting competition wasn't great in Hawaii, but those numbers are beyond insane. Chamberlain was clearly the best pitcher in the state.

2007 Outlook: The looked like a foregone conclusion two months ago that Chamberlain would start the year in Tampa. He hadn't played an ounce of professional baseball and hadn't blown away NCAA hitters. However, as a power pitcher with tons of life on his fastball, Chamberlain may find wooden bats easier than Kennedy might. His HBL performance was nothing short of dazzling, and the hitters there are supposed to be roughly equal to High A ball level. The Yankees may push him and start him at Trenton, especially considering that Trenton may be the only minor league club that the Yankees aren't going to have a huge surplus of rotation spots. He could excell and could find himself in the major league picture as early as Spring Training of 2008.

Health: Chamberlain has two primary health concerns. First, he has weight problems. He used to be downright fat. He weighted over 280 pounds, with some claiming he was closer to 300. He had all sorts of knee and muscle problems throughout his early college career. However, someone must have lit a fire under his fat ass because he lost over 50 pounds and began pitching like an ace. The knee problems have gone away, but his triceps started to act up at the begining of this year. The injury hurt his velocity and his control, and as a result all of his numbers dipped. It was enough to make teams shy away from his top-level stuff and let him fall to the Yankees at 41.

Ceiling: Chamberlain is a bona fide potential #1 starter. He has the control, power, and secondary stuff to do it all. He has been reported to be an unceasing competitor who wears his emotions on his sleeves. He certainly has the ability to strike out 200 while posting an ERA over 3.50, which makes him an ace in my book. He'll probably pitch his fair share of innings and even have a shot at a Cy Young down the line.

Reaching his Ceiling: Time will tell whether or not Chamberlain's triceps injury is serious. I expect that it is not. His weight problem will on the other hand be a constant issue, and similar problems have derailed the careers of many a Bartolo Colon.

Comparison: C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia is a little bit taller and wider, but they have the same basic pitching style. They both have a strong fastball which sits at 94-95, and both throw a slider/curve/changeup setup. Sabathia's achilles heel prior to his successful 2006 season involved a lot of maturity issues, which Chamberlain (who is already a father) does not seem to have. The college polish is certainly there.

My Take: I originally has Chamberlain rated outside of the top-10. I had ranked the Top 30 Yankee prospects right after Detroit knocked us out. Chamberlain came in with a good reputation but the injury concerns and lack of any professional experience was a knock against him. At the time, the report was that he was also only throwing 92-93. Things changed. He regained his velocity, stayed in shape, and utterly dominated Hawaii. I usually don't put a lot of stock in winter league numbers, but a 46:3 K/BB ratio is insane. On top of that, two of those walks came in his first start, where he pitched only 2 innings. His numbers were unrelenting after that. Between the rise in velocity, the numbers, and the speed that he learned a new changeup, Chamberlain rocketed in my eyes. This is one of those "gut feeling" picks.