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.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Prospect Profile: Tyler Clippard (#4)

Age: 21 (22 in February)
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 200
Drafted: 9th round in 2003 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Tyler Clippard does not throw hard. He throws between 88-92. Kennedy has his smarts, Chamberlain has his fastball, but Clippard has his control. He can place the ball within inches of where he wants it - every time. The fastball is certainly an obstacle to success, but Clippard has not faltered. Despite the big frame, he hasn't aided any velocity to the fastball after gaining over 15 pounds of muscle. That is all right, because his other pitches get him by.

Curveball: Clippard dominated the low minor leagues by combining great control with a great changeup against hitters as young as he was. He got strikeouts like crazy by hitting a corner or expertly placing a ball just out of the strike zone. However, this is not an approach which will get whiffs out of more advanced hitters. Clippard started to learn the curveball in the begining of 2005, and Nardi Contreras yet again succeeded in teaching a true plus pitch to his pupil. Clippard quickly adopted his approach with his new out pitch, thrown at about 76-77 mph.

Changeup: Clippard has long thrown the changeup, but over the past two years it has been his trademark. He combined an already deceptive delivery with the ability to throw an 80 mph change without any indication that it is coming. He throws it for strikes and is willing to use it in any count. It isn't as good as Jeff Marquez's, but it isn't far behind.

Command: Clippard can throw all three of his pitches for strikes very consistently. His strike throwing capabilities have allowed him to eat innings throughout his minor league career. He puts the ball exactly where he wants it. His command isn't perfect, but it is very close. His height makes his top-down delivery very deceptive.

Performance: Tyler Clippard has about as good of a minor league pedigree as it gets. He pitched 149 or more innings in each of his full major league seasons, posting a collective ERA of 3.33. In 513.1 total innings, he has struck out 557 and walked just 126. He has steadily advanced from league to league, pitching in all three levels before AAA without fail. He appeared to falter to start off 2006 - posting of 4.07, 4.06, and 5.81 in April, May, and June. The stuff-crazy pundits were saying "See... we were right! He can't be that good with a 90 mph fastball". Of course, stat heads like myself were saying "Hmm... his ERAs don't match his peripherals. Something is up". Clippard had struck out 87 and walked just 30 in 86 innings, allowing 8 home runs. Statistically, he was doing the same thing he had done in the two years previous. He was either getting unlucky or his defense was letting him down. Clippard recovered, playing some of the best baseball in the minor leagues in the remainder of the season, pitching 80 more innings with an ERA of 1.91 and 92 strikeouts to just 25 walks. Clippard was top-5 in the minor leagues in both innings and strikouts.

2007 Outlook: Clippard has a luxery right now. A lot of ballclubs would take Clippard's mind blowing second half and set him up in the major leagues right away. However, Clippard is a finesse pitcher. Finesse pitchers take a little longer than power pitchers to adjust to new leagues. Clippard will benefit from a near-full season at AAA, and I would be very surprised if we see him in the major leagues in 2007 before September. He has the talent to do it, but he is behind Karstens, Rasner, Hughes, Sanchez, and White in the depth charts. That is not a knock on Clippard - as he is only 21 years old. We'll see him starting full time in 2008.

Health: One of the reasons that Clippard is rated so high is his health situation. His effortless delivery, lack of reliance on velocity, and consistent 150 inning performances through his age 21 season are all great signs for a young pitcher. You could not ask for more in a pitcher. A++

Ceiling: Clippard has a flaw. Thanks to his average fastball, Clippard is prone to giving up the home run. He's no Eric Milton, but Clippard will probably allow 25-30 home runs every season in the major leagues. His home ballparks have been big and traditionally helped him a lot in this regard, but he is going to have a little trouble remaining elite in the majors. Luckily, his great control has helped to dull the damage from the bombs. It will keep him from winning Cy Young Awards, but Clippard can certainly be a reliable starter. His ability to throw strikes and eat innings will make him a very useful pitcher in the major leagues. His ERA will over between 3.70-4.20 most of the time.

Reaching Ceiling: Barring some freak injury, Clippard is pretty much there. He will try an tackle advanced hitters at AAA, but they should not prove to be much of an obstacle.

Comparison: Dan Haren. Haren has a little more of a fastball, but Clippard's breaking stuff is much better than Haren's.

My Take: I like Clippard. I think that any pitcher who has 220+ inning potential is an incredible value to his team. As Michael Kay likes to point out every inning, good pitchers throw strikes and change speeds. His fastball may be a little lacking, but control is significantly more important. Even I recognize that the fastball keeps Clippard's ceiling down (He doesn't have the magic that Kennedy or Mussina or someone like that seems to), I rated him #4 due to the impressive health record. An injury-free pitching prospect is as rare as a good interview from a hockey player, and Clippard hasn't even raised an eyebrow from any team trainer yet. He has moved passed the point in is career where pitchers generally fall to the needle. He has grown up in Phil Hughes' shadow, but Clippard should not go unnoticed.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What's In a Prospect?

As I enter the cream of the Yankee prospect crop, I'd like to talk a little bit about what I look for in a prospect. I am a little unorthodox in my methods, but I believe that in a few years my predictions will hold up.

I try to reframe from cliches when analyzing prospects. I hate it when people say "He's a #3 starter", without really defining what they mean by #3 starter. 1-5 means different things for different people. Some people will say that a #1 starter is a 3.50 ERA or better guy, while some will insist that the only "#1" starter in the league right now is Johan Santana. I try not to use the term.

What do I look for in a prospect? Well, I ask myself a few questions first.

I. Does he have a pedigree? How good is it? What kind of numbers has he put up? In what context?

I am a stat-head. I can't help it. I want to see the numbers on a prospect. I really don't care about high school numbers, because any decent prospect is going to dominate so thoroughly that the difference between a .450 batting average and a .420 one is minimal. College numbers are different, as certainly conferences can have levels of competition close to A+ leagues. Of course, you have to consider the difference between aluminum and wooden bats when talking about college pitchers. Power pitchers tend to fair significantly better against wood. You have to consider the age of the prospect putting up those numbers, because Eric Duncan's age 20 season at AA was encouraging for a 20 year old, but would be a major failure for an older player.

What numbers specifically? I am very, very high on control of the strike zone. The strike zone is the most important factor in baseball, and those who utilize it best will succeed. For pitchers, this means two things: not walking people and striking them out. Walks lead to big innings, and strikeouts prevent hits. There is a lot of luck involved with batted balls, and strikeouts prevent the whims of fate from ruining a game for a pitcher. I look at ERA, but I don't take it in to account too much. Look at a guy like Jeff Marquez. Marquez has freakish ground/fly splits, but his defense has always hurt him. As he improves, the ERA will normalize.

For hitters, I look for a couple of things. First off, a very important factor that people forget is park and league factor. Tampa is a big ballpark in a pitchers league, which makes performances like Cody Ehlers' go underrated. I mentally add about 20% to all hitter numbers in Tampa. Next, I think about position. Good numbers for a 1st baseman translate into amazing numbers for a CF. Finally, the actual numbers themselves. I like prospects who take a lot of walks. If a prospect can maintain a respectable batting average while taking his fair share of walks, he is a pretty sure bet to have at least a major league bench career. I look for power, but a lot of prospects (like Shelly Duncan or Mitch Jones) like to sacrifice the ability to prevent outs by going for the sexy home run numbers. Again, the numbers have to be put in context.

Battings averages are weird things. A player could do everything right but end up hitting .260 over 600 plate appearances. Balls bounce weird or defenses can make an inordinate amount of excellent plays against a batter. However, a player can do a few things right to keep his batting average high. He can put the ball in play, since a strikeout is a near automatic out. Simply by putting the ball in play every time, a very mediocre player will hit at least .270 or so. In addition, hitting ground balls will lower your batting average. Yeah, a batter can aim for a hole, but very often the ball will reach an infielder. Line drives are much better, as over 70% of them fall in for outs. Fly balls will create a lot of extra base hits, but will lower your batting average as a lot of them end up caught for outs. In addition, a player's batting average can be raised by taking walks. Speed can help too, especially on ground balls.

I don't like to look at batting averages, but I do like to look at their context. If a player hits .240 with 160 strikeouts and 60 walks, then he has a problem. Look at Tim Battle for example. However, if a guy hits .260 with 90 strikeouts and 60 walks, then I don't worry too much. Younger players tend to struggle with batting averages, despite strikeout and walk numbers.

II. What do the scouts say about a player? Is he ahead of his curve? For pitchers, what does he throw? Does he have control of his pitches?

For me, this stuff comes second. I draw a distinction between how a prospect has performed and their means to that performance. Yes, the means to the performance is very important, but it is also highly subjective. I do not doubt that a skilled scout can tell the difference between the next Manny Ramirez and the next Drew Henson, but most people who call themselves by that label are not as skilled as they would have you think. Performance is a much better way of evaluating prospects.

But of course, all performance has context. A pitcher who dominates A ball based on his 96 mph fastball but has poor control and no secondary pitches will not succeed in the high minor leagues. A guy who does very well with his 84 mph fastball and trick curveball does not have major league stuff, even if he can fool 19 year olds.

I like changeups. Everybody these days has a slider or a curveball, and major league hitters are getting much better at hitting them. However, the ability to throw a plus changeup is not something common to pitchers, and it adds velocity to the fastball. Everybody can throw hard, but can everybody change speeds? Pitching is about deception, and a changeup is the best way to decieve hitters. In addition, I like smart pitchers. Athletes often try to turn their brains off when playing their games (which seems to extend to broadcasters and sports writers these days), but that is not always the best approach. Scouts put no faith in guys like Matt DeSalvo (who is actually literate, unlike most baseball players), Ian Kennedy, or Tyler Clippard, because they have trouble understanding how they manage to achieve their results. Again, this is why performance-based analysis is so much more accurate than means-driven analysis.

For batters, I sometimes have to rely on scouting for younger prospects. Guys like Jose Tabata and Jesus Montero are young and so raw that they simply have not played enough to determine their worth.

III. Is he healthy? For pitchers, how many innings has he managed to pitch so far? Does he have any lingering health issues?

This is pretty self explanatory. Between the ages of 18 and 21, a huge portion of the pitching prospects out there fail. Why do they fail? They blow their arms out. A lot of these guys have been pitching since they were 11 years old and have thrown far too many breaking balls. My sister pitches in softball, and she very nearly blew out her elbow because her pitching coach taught her a riser too early. Pitchers are the same way. Most High School pitchers throw little more than 60 innings in a season. A full minor league season will include 27+ starts for a pitcher, a huge increase. This increased workload kills off a lot of arms. College pitchers have a huge advantage in this regard in that they have been exposed to 90-140 inning workloads, and their arms have grown past the stage where injuries occur. This eliminates a lot of risk.

IV. What position does he play? Does he have the tools to hold it down? Does he have the bat? The secondary pitches?

I can easily find a 25 home run 1st baseman. Guys like Lyle Overbay aren't anything special. However, you can count the number of 25 home run shortstops on one hand. I look at all positions on a line. The line goes DH-1b-LF-RF-3b-CF-2b-SS-C. Offense is less valueable to the left and more to the right. Players who have trouble playing defense will much more likely move left than right. A shortstop with a bad arm can play 2nd, and a CF with poor range can slide to left. However, their offensive contribution suffers. A guy like Eric Duncan, who may be able to put together a few .270/.375/.500 years, suffers in prospect status by moving to 3rd. Instead of competing against a few guys like Mark Teahen, Alex Rodriguez, and David Wright, he is at a position where 40 HR Richie Sexton is considered poor. Defense is a distant third in importance to pitching and hitting, but it is neccessary.

V. Gut feelings.

Sometimes I just feel really good about a guy. Ian Kennedy, George Kontos, and Cody Ehlers are that way for me. It is a gut feeling that I cannot put any logical reasoning behind. My gut feeling on Dellin Betances moved him from #11 to #5. I am no professional scout, but I have been a baseball watcher for long enough to get a real feel for some of these prospects.

Maybe this all makes my rankings more sensible. Maybe it does not. Tomorrow, we move on to #4, Tyler Clippard.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I hate the BBWAA. Hate them. It always amazes me how some extremely successful baseball writers can be so clueless.

I am not upset that Jeter lost. There were arguments against Jeter. I am upset that the BBWAA decided that Justin Morneau deserved the award. He very clearly did not.

Steve Lombardi at did a very good summary of why Jeter wins out on the numbers, clearly. I cannot do any better, so I might as well just link it.

Baseball writers are stupid. Well, most of them are. Some are intelligent enough to determine their feet from their hands. A few. One or two...

Sometimes I think that bloggers should determine these awards.

The knocks against Jeter for the writers:

1. Lack of home runs. He hit 14.
2. He is a Yankee

Anything else? Nope. Home runs are sexy. They are pretty damn useful too. I love home runs. If Jeter was a 1st Baseman, I would expect him to hit them. But there are other ways to contribute other than home runs.

It is really easy for a 1st baseman or designated hitter to put up good numbers. Take a look at the big three: Frank Thomas, David Ortiz, and Travis Hafner. These are big guys. Huge guys. They are able to be so damn big because they do not have to play the field. Look at Jason Giambi. He is just as big, but suffers from constant injuries due to his responsibilities in the field. Thomas, Ortiz, and Hafner are able to load up the muscle and not worry about the wear and tear of everyday playing because they are active for about 5 minutes out of a game. Oritz and Thomas got more votes than Mauer, and Hafner got a bunch too.

Jeter's position automatically makes any offense that he derives from it more valueable. If Justin Morneau went down, the Twins could fairly easily find a Travis Lee or Chris Shelton or Kevin Millar or Mike Jacobs, or David Delluci or some other scrub to hit .270/.350/.460 out of the slot. If Jeter went down? The Yankees would replace his .343/.417/.483 line with a Nick Green or Miguel Cairo or Neifi Perez or someone else who the Yankees would be lucky to get a .250/.310/.360 line out of. The downfall is significantly worse. The whole idea of replacement level derives from this concept.

Derek Jeter provides the Yankees a better competitive edge than does Justin Morneau. I could see a vote for Jermaine Dye or Joe Mauer, or even Johan Santana, but Justin Morneau is just a poor choice. Morneau's contribution is entirely offense, where he put up an excellent .321/.375/.559 line. Simply from batting lines, Jason Giambi, David Ortiz, Travis Hafner, Frank Thomas, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Paul Konerko were better.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Prospect Profile: Dellin Betances (#5)

Age: 18
Height: 6'7"-6'9" (Depending on who you ask)
Weight: 185-215 (Again, depending on who you ask)
Drafted: 8th Round in 2006 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Betances is 18 years old. He is a big guy. He has yet to put a lot of muscle on his frame. He throws a 93-97 mph fastball, hitting 98, with nasty movement on it. He throws it with command and consistent mechanics. His fastball can do nothing but improve. Betances entered camp a raw talent, throwing 3-4 mph slower and with a mechanical delivery all over the place. The Yankees took him in and almost immediately corrected his flaws, resulting in a beautiful product.

Curveball: Betances throws a knuckle curve. He entered camp with a slight feel for it, but it was not much of a weapon. As would be a theme for Betances, this would change almost immediately. In less than two months, Betances transformed a pitch which he had little feel for in to a true plus pitch. His curveball is a strikeout weapon that sits in the low 80s.

Changeup: Yet again, Betances entered camp without much of a changeup. In fact, he entered camp barely knowing how to throw one. At least he had some experience with a curveball. With a little instruction, Betances was almost instantly able to throw a plus changeup, which compliments his fastball perfectly. He does not yet use it as a strikeout pitch, but that could change in the future.

Command: Betances entered camp with the typical "tall man syndrom", meaning that he had difficult repeating his delivery. That lasted about a week. To compare, it took Randy Johnson the better part of a half decade to do the same. That said, Betances is not 6'10". People tend to overestimate height, and I would say that Betances is more likely closer to 6'7" than 6'9". After that week of adjustment, Betances never let up. He was dominant.

Performance: Betances has a short pedigree in professional baseball. After signing, he tossed 23.1 innings (the Yankees limited his workload, as they do with a lot of 18 year olds), striking out 27, walking 7, and allowing just 3 earned runs (1.16 ERA). Betances did this following a 40+ inning high school performance where he struck out over 100. Why did he fall to us in the 8th round? Well, there are a few reasons. First off, no one thought that he would sign. Second, he pretty much said "If I am going to sign, it is only going to be with the Yankees". Third, he was not a three pitch pitcher prior to attending the Yankee camp. He tossed a live fastball and had little in terms of secondary pitches. This is a steal.

2007 Outlook: Dellin will certainly head to Charleston, where he will join a very talented rotation. The Yankee goal in 2007 will likely to simply keep Betances healthy, marginally effective, and adjusted to everyday baseball. He has no lingering issues with injury to worry about, but at such a young age who knows what health problems he may encounter in the future. He could very well take the Phil Hughes path, moving up to Tampa after some limited time in Charleston. If he manages to pitch 120+ innings, we Yankee fans should be very optimistic about his future. If he dominates Charleston, we may have another top-flight prospect on our hands.

Health: Incomplete. He is too young to determine anything about his health, although he has no immediately apparent health issues.

Ceiling: Betances has no ceiling. He is that good. If he can continue to stay mechanically clean and throw three plus pitches, he will be a success in this league. He is so young that he should be considered years ahead of schedule. I have not seen Betances pitch, but after reading a lot about him something struck me. He knows how to adjust. He quickly learned pitches, he quickly learned how to fix his mechanics, and he quickly learned how to attack hitters in professional baseball. Who does this remind me of? Phil Hughes.

Reaching Ceiling: He is so young that he will have dozens of opportunities to fail. Nothing can really be said about this right now.

Comparison: Can I say Phil Hughes? I guess I cannot. Besides a few inches and a few ticks of velocity, the two prospects seem to be mirror images of each other. Since I cannot say Phil Hughes, I am going to compare Betances to a healthy Mark Prior.

My take: I originally had Betances rated much lower, for the same reason that I rated Montero lower. But I stepped back and reflected on my choice. Betances is very young and very inexperienced. However, I cannot ignore how quickly his pitching intelligence kicked in and he adjusted his game. Some players just have it. They just know how to play. It is natural for them. Betances seems to be a natural. I am going to cautiously predict that Betances will have a Hughes-like rise to power, becoming a top-5 pitching prospect in this league in the next few years. Yankee fans should be very excited about him. His height and velocity give him an advantage over a guy like Hughes. Cross your fingers that he stays healthy.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Staying Out of the Market

This is an insane free agent market. 51 million for D-Mat? 130+ for Soriano? Oh no, it gets crazier.

The Dodgers have officially signed Juan Pierre to a 5 year, 45 million dollar contract.

Pierre hit .292/.330/.388 last year.

And the Dodgers thought that they had it bad with Paul DePodesta.

In the words of Mike from Pending Pinstripes:

With untradeable albatross contracts like this becoming the rule rather than exception, it makes having a deep and productive farm system that much more valuable. Pre-arbitration guys like Robbie Cano, Joe Mauer and David Wright have so much value in today’s game that the days of having to deal 2-3 prospects for a proven veteran are just about gone with the days of having to deal 2-3 proven veterans for a prospect fast approaching.

Couldn't have said it better.

Prospect Profile: James Brent Cox (#6)

Age: 22
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: Second Round in 2005 out of the University of Texas
Position: Relief Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: J.B. Cox is not going to blow his fastball by anybody. He throws a 2-seamer at about 91-92 mph from a 3/4 arm slot. Previously, Cox had proven to throw a very durable near-sidearm fastball, but the Yankees decided to change this. He was throwing 86-89 when they drafted him, in part due to fatigue after throwing so many college innings. The new arm slot vastly improves his breaking stuff, and retains the movement on his fastball. His delivery is still deceptive, and very repeatable. He controls his fastball very well, throwing strikes with ease. The sink on his fastball has been compared to Derek Lowe's.

Slider: Cox has a plus slider, on par with T.J. Beam's. He throws it at about 85 mph, with excellent control. It breaks hard and in to left handed batters, getting him a decent amount of swings and misses. He is by no means a strikeout pitcher, but his slider is certainly a strikeout weapon. He doesn't use the pitch to get strikes, but it certainly looks like a strike when he is throwing it. The weird arm slot that he throws from makes it even more deceptive.

Changeup: Cox entered 2006 with a feel for a changeup, but it wasn't good enough to be thrown in a pressure situation. That changed. He worked very hard, turning it in to a major league quality pitch. It isn't anything special, but it gives the hitters something softer to think about. He will continue to work on it coming in to 2007, and the Yankees believe that he can make the changeup a near plus pitch.

Command: Cox has absolutely stellar command, which is easily his biggest asset. He does not get himself into trouble by walking people. He does not leave balls over the middle of the plate, resulting in an astronomically low 6 career home runs allowed in 290.1 innings between college and the minor leagues. Cox has pitched in 13 CWS games, handling the pressure as well if not better than fellow-Texan Huston Street.

Performance: Cox put together three excellent years in the NCAA's storied University of Texas, pitching 185.2 innings, striking out 190, walking 53, and posting a 2.03 ERA. He got the final out of their 2005 Championship before signing with the Yankees. He has one of best pedigrees for a college closer in the short history of drafted college closers. He doesn't throw as hard as most power relievers, but he has certainly showed up on the mound. Between High A Tampa and AA Trenton, Cox has pitched 104.2 innings, striking out 87 while walking just 29. He has allowed only 23 earned runs during that time for an ERA of 1.98.

2007 Outlook: On a lot of teams, Cox would already be in the major league bullpen and perhaps a major league closer. However, the Yankees refused to rush Cox, seeing Joe Devine on the Braves and Craig Hansen on the Red Sox crash and burn after being rushed from high end college programs to pressure situations in the show. With a suddenly loaded Yankee bullpen, Cox will start 2007 in Scranton, which will give him time to work on his changeup. He will likely be second or third on the Yankee relief depth charts, behind Chris Britton (if he gets optioned down) and T.J. Beam (who is starting to get old). There is no doubt in my mind that Cox could perform better than Kyle Farnsworth or Scott Proctor next year if sent immediately to the Yankees.

Health: If there is one reason to be concerned about Cox, this is it. He pitched well over 100 innings in 2005 between the college season, the CWS, and Tampa. The Yankees slowed it down a bit this year, giving him 77 innings before shipping him off to Team USA. He pitched well there, but went down with an elbow injury in the final days of play. He was supposed to go to Arizona, but was pulled from the team roster. No Yankee official seems to be making a big deal about it though. Hopefully they are not trying to mask a bigger problem.

Ceiling: There is debate as to whether or not Cox can be a big league closer. His fastball is below average for an ace reliever. Most closers (even Mariano) sport a 95+ mph fastball to blow by people. I think that Cox has the ability to close, but will not fool anybody to thinking that Mariano had yet to retire. In terms of quality, I would compare him to John Wetteland. Wetteland was a decent closer, but not a great one. Think about some of Tom Gordon's good years, or one of Shield's better years. The ability to eat innings should not be underrated here. Cox could be one of the average closers in this league or one of the better setup men.

Reaching his Ceiling: He is basically major league ready right now. I would say that there is an 80% chance that Cox steps in and posts a sub 3.50 ERA right away. He has as much experience as we could possibly hope for, and should feed off the pressure of the big leagues. Health is the only concern. 90% Chance of Reaching the Majors.

Comparison: Scot Shields. If Cox successfully turns his changeup into an above average pitch, he will resemble Shields even moreso. Shields relies on his sinking fastball to force ground balls and low pitch counts. Shields will probably strike more people out, but I think that Cox will be a better reliever thanks to the plus slider. He has better minor league numbers than Shields and an excellent college track record.

My Take: Cox wouldn't be #6 if he wasn't so far along. He is going to be at least a good major league reliever very soon, and could very well be a great one. His ability to get left handed batters out just as well as right handed ones thanks to the hard slider coming in will make him better than a middle reliever. He is such a certain product that there is not much more to say about him. Hopefully this mysterious elbow injury isn't serious, and I doubt that it is. Scranton is going to be a fun team to watch.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Prospect Profile: Ian Kennedy (#7)

Age: 22
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 185
Drafted: 1st Round in 2006 out of USC
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Kennedy throws a 4 seamer around 88-92 mph, although it dipped in velocity during his final year at USC. He is learning a 2 seamer down in Hawaii, which may be to blame for most of his struggles there (more on this later). "But EJ, why did we waste a 1st round pick on a guy who throws 90?". Johnny, it is pretty simple. Kennedy locates his fastball with extreme poise, ala Mike Mussina.

Changeup: Kennedy has a plus changeup, which he uses with ruthless efficiency. The changeup is essential to Kennedy's approach on the mound. He uses it to out smart the batter, with a lot of success. It is one of three pitches that he will often use to finish off a batter.

Slider: Kennedy sports an above average slider, sitting in the mid 80s. He uses it to make his changeup look a little lighter, forcing the hitter to account for harder breaking stuff. He is one of the rare pitchers who can reliably throw their slider for strikes. When it misses, it misses in the dirt, not in the zone.

Curveball: He also sports an above average curveball, which he can again use with pinpoint accuracy. The curveball gives Kennedy a third strikeout pitch, making him incredibly deadly in that department (and it showed in college, which I will get to soon).

Command: As previously mentioned, Kennedy's command is excellent. He is a very smart pitcher who learns how to get each individual batter out. He has a strategic mind not unlike that of Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina. He handles pressure extremely well. In terms of "polish", the Yankees believe that Kennedy is already far ahead of most AA prospects.

Performance: Ian Kennedy put up two of the more dominant seasons in NCAA history. In 2004 and 2005, Kennedy pitched a combined 209.2 innings. He posted a 2.70 ERA between the two years, striking out 278 and walking just 69. for a 19 and 20 year old just entering college, these numbers were monumental. He had a reputation as the best pitcher in USC history - a group which includes Randy Johnson and Mark Prior. USC also happens to face the highest level of competition in the NCAA. What happened? Kennedy had a poor - by his standards - Junior year. He posted a 3.90 ERA in 101.2 innings, striking out 102 and walking 36. He did not allow any more home runs than his freshman year, give up significantly more his, or walk a ton of batters.

2007 Outlook: Unfortunately, Kennedy signed late. He only got 2.2 innings in at Staten Island before the playoffs started. Any thought of Kennedy starting in Trenton was immediately dismissed. He will start in Tampa, where he hopefully should do very well. Kennedy went to Hawaii, pitching 30.1 innings, striking out 45, walking 11, and posting a 4.56 ERA. He allowed 27 hits. A lot of Kennedy's struggles may be due to his attempt to develop a 2 seam fastball. In addition, almost half of Kennedy's earned runs came in one game, where he gave up 8 runs. Other than that game, Kennedy had an ERA of 2.48. Kennedy still struck out over 13 per 9. Still, he will go to Tampa.

Health: A lot of speculation about Kennedy's significantly worse 2006 season has been speculation about health. This is just speculation, although it may have merit. Rumors are that his velocity dropped, although no one can specifically say that it did. I am skeptical. Kennedy pitched a lot of innings in college without arm problems. He has a pretty good health record. B.

Ceiling: Kennedy's fastball is a knock against him. If you read BA, you would think that Kennedy would be lucky to get out of AAA. I cannot disagree more. I strongly believe that Ian Kennedy is going to be a major steal in this draft. A steal in the first round? Yes. Absolutely. His fastball is average. I understand that. However, Kennedy has a ton of Maddux/Mussina in him. Hell, he even does Mussina's stretch move. You cannot ignore those college numbers. Those are crazy dominant strikeouts, walks, and ERAs. I believe that Kennedy can put up a lot of typical Mussina years - 3.40 ERA, 220 innings, 200 strikeouts, 40 walks. That doesn't look like "#4 Starter" that BA seems to have doomed Kennedy to.

Reaching his ceiling: It will be up to Kennedy to prove that his 2006 season in college and Hawaii was a fluke. I believe that he can do it. Intelligence is underrated in baseball, and Kennedy appears to have the ability to outsmart his opposition. The Yankees can also afford to take their time with Kennedy and let him learn at his pace. Maybe he'll learn a gyroball or something.

Comparison: Mike Mussina, no doubt. Like I said, he resembles Mussina in almost every way. Strikeouts. No walks. Average fastball. Lots of secondary pitches. The same strange stretch move. This is the easiest comparison on this list.

My Take: Don't write Kennedy off. If George Kontos is an example where old school scouts are dead-on toward a prospect, Ian Kennedy will be an example where the stat-heads got it right. Sometimes you cannot explain a pitcher's performance by the plus marks next to his pitches or the radar gun readings. Sometimes something is just there - and Kennedy has that something. In the words of Charles Barkley - I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Prospect Profile: Christian Garcia (#8)

Age: 21
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: 3rd Round in 2004 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Garcia has a plus fastball, sitting at 93-94 mph most of the time with some late movement. He can throw very hard, topping out at 97, and when he finally gets healthy he should throw even harder. He is a big guy who should have more muscle than he current has.

Curveball: Christian Garcia has the second best curveball in the Yankee system, second only to Phil Hughes, which is probably damning him with faint praise. His curveball is absolutely excellent, a near plus-plus pitch. He controls is very well and uses it to finish off batters.

Changeup: Garcia throws a circle change, and it has become another plus pitch for him. It gets down to 81 mph and is thrown from the exact same arm slot as his two other pitches. He uses it very effectively to get ahead in the count along with his fastball.

Command: Prior to this season, command was Garcia's issue. Although injuries limited him to only 54 innings, he made huge strides in that department. He walked just 16 during that time, while striking out 60. He had previously walked about twice that many in 2005. His command of all three pitches improved to the point that he may be primed for a major breakout.

Performance: Garcia had a mixed 2005, posting a 3.91 ERA for Charleston in 106 innings, striking out 103 while walking 53. He suffered from an oblique strain and some arm problems to begin 2006, landing him in extended spring training. He spent 5 games rehabbing in the Gulf Coast league, and was promoted to Charleston despite a 9.53 ERA (He struck out 15 in 11.1 innings and walked 4). He did very well there, posting a 3.46 ERA in 41.2 innings. He is currently making up for lost time in the Hawaiian league, pitching 20.2 innings with a 3.05 ERA and 23 strikeouts, although he walked 14.

2007 Outlook: Garcia is headed for Tampa, where he will enter a packed Yankee rotation. With his newfound command, we should expect nothing less than excellence. He has the stuff to move quickly throughout Tampa and Trenton, and could be in the major league picture as soon as mid-2008. He has that kind of stuff.

Health: The Yankees seem pretty confident that Garcia's arm problems are not going to linger. The muscle strains should go away. That said, Garcia was mysterious scratched and removed from the roster in Hawaii last week, and no one seems to know why. Maybe he is injured, or maybe there is some other personal excuse. We'll have to see if Garcia's arm can handle a workload larger than the 110 innings or so that he has been aksed to pitch so far. C

Ceiling: The common saying is that Garcia has the highest ceiling of any Yankee pitching prospect, even more than Phil Hughes. I don't disagree that he has a high ceiling, but I rate both Betances and Hughes higher, which is not a knock on Garcia. His stuff is certainly good enough to win a few Cy Youngs somewhere down the line. A

Reaching his ceiling: Garcia's injuries are troubling, and I am not sure what to think of them. On one hand, a lot of people seem to be optimistic. On the other hand, this mysterious exit from Hawaii is alarming. If Garcia's improvements in command and control are real, we should be very optimistic. If not, then Garcia will forever struggle with his ability to prevent walks.

Comparison: John Lackey. Garica and Lackey both combine a killer, live fastball with amazing curveballs. The changeup seems hardly neccessary when looking at their breaking stuff. Garcia's career will be determined by how close to Lackey's command he gets.

My take: I like Garcia, although he gives me a lot of reasons to be skeptical. A full, healthy season at Tampa where he does not walk the ballpark could propel him to top prospect status in all of the minors. Until then, I will cautiously say he is better than guys like Duncan or Montero, along with more advanced pitchers like Marquez. Maybe he'll be #3 or so if I do these rankings again next year.

Prospect Profile: Jesus Montero (#9)

Age: 16
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220
Drafted: Signed out of Venezuela in 2006 for 2 million dollars
Position: Catcher (for now)
Bats: Right

Batting: Jesus Montero is 16 years old. Jesus Montero's bat is now. His bat is among the best to come out of Latin America in history. He has 80 power on a 20-80 scale, which means he has the potential to hit 40+ home runs at the major league level. He has an advanced approach at the plate, meaning that he knows how to select his pitch. We are unsure about his strikeout and walk potential due to his lack of professional experience to this point. It is very difficult to judge too much about Montero at this stage in his development. The Yankees are already adjusting his swing to allow him to hit for power to all fields, which is something usually reserved for prospects much older than Montero.

Defense: Montero is a catcher. We know that. He probably will not remain a catcher. Montero has a few things going against him. First off, he is a big guy. At 16 years old, he will probably be larger than 6'3" 220 lbs by the time he reaches the majors. Catchers simply cannot survive at 240+ lbs. Second, he is no Joe Mauer. His defensive abilities are extremely raw and may or may not develop in to a good defensive catcher, but right now he doesn't show a lot of finesse behind the plate. The Yankees plan to keep him at catcher now, but Montero could end up a 1st baseman when all is said and done. If he does remain a catcher, his offense will be magnified tenfold.

Performance: Montero has not played any serious professional ball so far. He did hit a home run in his first professional game though.

2007 Outlook: There are two options for Montero. He could go to Charleston as a 17 year old, or he could be sent to the Gulf Coast League. I believe that Montero will not end up in Charleston. He is still learning English and the catching position, two traits that you do not want handling prize prospects such as McAllister and Betances. Montero is so incredibly young that rushing him could have poor effects. He will probably be sent to extended spring training and the GCL Yankees, where his bat will dominate. All of this said, if the Yankees decided to move him away from the catcher position, he will almost certainly be sent to Charleston. It seems a little early to do that though. When you hear things in interviews like "He hits like a big leaguer right now", you do expect prospects to be a little more rushed than expected.

Health: Montero is so young that nothing substantive can be said about his health. Incomplete.

Ceiling: The sky is the limit for Montero (a phrase that will certainly come up a lot with the next few propsects). I don't care what position he plays, because his bat has enough power to play him anywhere. A+.

Reaching his ceiling: He is so damn young that again nothing substantive can be said about it, except that power is traditionally the last tool to develop in a prospect. If he already has major league power, he is in good shape. Plate discipline will determine a lot for Montero. 20% Chance of reaching the majors.

Comparison: Again, it is way to early to compare him to anyone. He certainly has the ability to match or beat Javy Lopez's 2003 or some of Posada's best years.

My take: Some people would rate Montero a bit higher. I certainly agree with them that his ceiling is unlimited, but I cannot rate a 16 year old who never has played in the minor leagues higher than some of the guys on this list. He could very well be the #1 prospect in the Yankee system a year from now. He probably has more potential than even Tabata.

Entering the top 10

It's that time. My long set of prospect profiles is soon coming to a close. We are now entering the top 10 Yankee prospects (Eric Duncan would really be #11 after Sanchez enters the rankings), and things are going to change a little. I am going to expand my prospect profiles to include some more in depth analysis, and do my best to work with blogger to put some actual statistics into the profiles. My rankings are going to be a little different from BA,, or any other sources on the internet, or at least I think they will be.

Here comes #9 (10), Jesus Montero.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Prospect Profile: Eric Duncan (#10)

Age: 21 (22 in December)
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: 1st round out of High School in 2003
Position: 3rd/1st
Throws: Right
Bats: Left

Tools: Eric Duncan is not going to make anybody mistake him for a triathelete. On the other hand, he is no Jason Giambi. His tool is his bat. From the start, Eric Duncan was looked on by scouts as a big time power hitter. This is a mischaracterization of Duncan. Eric Duncan will never be a 30+ home run guy. He simply does not have the swing for it. He tends to be very uncomfortable pulling balls, prefering to drive pitches in to left center field. He is one of the best in the minors at doing so. His eye at the plate is extremely selective, resulting in comparisons to Chipper Jones. His defense at 3rd was average at it's absolute best, although he has proven to be a passable 1st baseman.

Performance: The Yankees have attempted to change this, adjusting his swing to be more pull happy. The result? Lines of .235/.326/.408 as a 20 year old at AA and .209/.279/.255 as a 21 year old in AAA. He recovered in Trenton this year, hitting .248/.355/.485. In between the years, he earned the AFL MVP honors after posting a .362/.423/.734 line. Duncan has a weird power stroke that will produce lots of doubles and a decent amount of homers. The comparison is Jason Giambi is way off in this regard, as Duncan is anything but a dead-pull hitter. He has had a major strikeout problem in the high minors, punching out 136 times in 126 games in 2005 and 24 times in 31 games in AAA in 2006. The strikeouts did improve after being sent back to AA, striking out only 38 times in 57 games (equal to 108 in a 162 game season).

Outlook: I am mixed on my opinion of Duncan's future. He spent most of 2006 experiencing bad back problems, almost resulting in surgery. Those problems have again resurfaced in the AFL this year. Back problems tend to be chronic and very debilitating. If healthy, there is no doubt in my mind that Duncan will be an effective major league player. The strikeout level that he maintained in his second trip to AA is certainly low enough to maintain a decent major league batting average, and his isolated power at AA has been top of the line (.237 in 2006, Alex Rodriguez has a career .268 ISO). I love any player who can hit to all fields like Duncan can, and the plate discipline is a big plus. His minor league stats aren't great, but the Yankees have consistently rushed him from level to level. Just being in AAA at 21 this year was an accomplishment, even if he failed miserably. I believe that Duncan could blossom in to a .270/.370/.500 hitter in the majors.

Grades: Ceiling B+, Health C-, Chance of Reaching Majors 75%, Comparison: Erubiel Durazo

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Prospect Profile: Austin Jackson (#11)

Age: 19
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 180 lbs
Drafted: 8th Round in 2005 out of High School (800,000 $ bonus)
Position: Centerfield
Bats: Right

Tools: According to Travis at Pending Pinstripes, the Yankees started scouting Jackson when he was 12. They clearly had interest in his athletic talent, and it showed. Jackson is an excellent athlete, but that is only hlaf the story. His speed is 60 on a 20-80 scale, or about equal to a Bobby Abreu. He is still learning how to steal bases but has already shown 40-50 base ability. The speed translate well to centerfield, where is one among many excellent Yankee defenders. He has the arm of an average left fielder. Jackson has a Derek Jeter-like swing to right field, producing surprising gap power. Austin is extremely patient at the plate for a 19 year old, although he struck out a ton in 2006.

Performance: At first glance, Jackson did not follow up his strong performance in 2005 when sent to Charleston in 2006. He hit to a .260/.340/.346 line with 151 strikeouts, 61 walks, 37 Sbs and 12 CS. The strikeouts were not the result of a long or loopy swing but rather Jackson taking too many pitches for strike 3. That said, he came in to the season as a 19 year old pure-athlete. It is very rare that an athlete of his caliber does not swing at everything - so the pitch-taking is encouraging. He will learn as he ages to get ahead in the count and drive hitter's pitches. Jackson certainly looks to have 80-walk potential written on him. In addition, he showed excellent raw power in Charleston, hitting 33 extra base hits. With his inside-out swing he probably won't hit a lot of home runs, but he will get his share of doubles and triples (especially with his speed).

Outlook: Jackson is my pick for a breakout prospect in 2007. Except for the strikeouts, he has done everything right. If he could cut those strikeouts down considerably he looks to be a .300/.400/.450 player who can steal you 40-50 bases every year. He is still a long way off, but the Yankees may push him to Tampa next year. He will join teammates Battle, Corona, Vechionacci, and others there. He is at a stage where the average high school prospect would still be trying to figure out how to tie his shoes in professional ball, so it is easy to underrate his performance so far. He is ahead of where Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, similar in terms of talent, were at this age.

Grades: Ceiling A-, Health B, Chance of Reaching Majors 25%, Comparison: Kenny Lofton

Ok, This is Pretty Cool

CNN is running a story about Oakland's potential new stadium. It sounds pretty cool.

Cisco Systems Inc. has its way, the Oakland Athletics' new ballpark in Fremont will be the stadium of the future.

Fans will swipe electronic tickets stored on cell phones. Bleacher bums will view instant replays at their seats with laptop computers. And digital advertising displays will be able to switch images based on the buying habits of the people walking by through data embedded in their cell phones.

That was the vision that A's owner Lew Wolff laid out to Fremont City Council members this week in a pitch for Cisco Field, a planned ballpark featuring the company's technology, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said Thursday.

"It's fabulous -- the technology is something else," Wasserman said. "It went over my head. It only takes about 10 seconds to go beyond me when you're talking about technology. I can't say I understand it all, but it's going to be quite a ballpark."

Wolff's pitch came just weeks after Cisco CEO John Chambers delivered a less-than-subtle presentation at Oracle OpenWorld about the advances that could be possible at a new ballpark in the San Francisco Bay area.

It will be interesting to see if the new Yankee and Mets stadium offers similar innovations. We are entering an age where wireless technology could redefine how we watch sports. Camden Yards revolutionized ballparks over a decade ago, but could Oakland do it again?

And um... can anybody tell me what the hell is in the centerfield of that picture?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Prospect Profile: Jeff Marquez (#12)

Age: 22
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 175
Drafted: Supplemental 1st Round in 2004 out of Sacramento College
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: Jeff Marquez has a strong sinking fastball that he throws around 92-93 mph, topping out a few ticks higher. He gets a ton of groundballs with it. He could add a few mph as he puts some muscle on his body. Marquez's fastball is good, but his real strength comes with his plus changeup, probably the best in the Yankee system. He throws it from the exact same arm slot as his fastball, but at 76 mph. He also throws a very good curveball at around the same velocity.

Command: Marquez commands his fastball and changeup extremely well. He does not rely on the strikeout, although he certainly does get his fair share (he has a career K/9 of 7.48 in the minors). Instead, he causes hitters to pound the ball in to the ground like Brandon Webb. He does not command his curveball nearly as well, although it is still a good pitch. The curveball (which Nardi Contreras seems to be teaching to every Yankee starter) has a lot of break to it, but generally breaks into the dirt. Marquez has only been throwing it for a season and a half, so it certainly could improve. He shows a remarkable ability to prevent home runs, allowing only 11 home runs in over 300 innings.

Outlook: Marquez battled injuries throughout 2006, but did not get run off his course. He pitched just under 100 innings in 2006, posting a 3.58 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 30 walks in Tampa. This is after throwing 139 innings of 3.42 ERA ball in Charleston with 107 strikeouts and 61 walks. His control has improved considerably since in that small time, in part thanks to the development of his curveball. Marquez is not having a good time in the Hawaiian league right now, but he is still likely to head to AA Trenton next season. Marquez will be an effective major league player for a couple of reasons. He strikes people out, forces them to pound balls into the ground, rarely walks people, and does not allow a lot of home runs. The injuries that he missed time with were just a couple of muscle strains. I have a lot of faith in guys who change speeds as well as Marquez does. He was a first round pick for a reason. He may be converted to a reliever due to a surplus of Yankee starters, but I doubt it.

Grades: Ceiling B+, Health B, Chance of Reaching Majors 50% Comparison: Ramiro Mendoza

Prospect Profile: Brett Gardner (#13)

Age: 23
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 180
Drafted: 3rd round in 2005 out of the College of Charleston
Position: Centerfield
Bats: Left

Tools: Speed. Speed. More Speed. Lots of Speed. He has it. He is Willie Mays Hays. Brett Gardner has 80 speed on a 20-80 scale, and he uses it. He has stolen 77 bases in 191 career minor league games. Of course, the minors are filled with players with 80 speed who could never be decent major league players (Justin Christian, Gardner's teammate, is a prime example). Gardner combines his speed with outstanding plate discipline. He looks to have the ability to put together 80+ walk seasons. He likes to hit a lot of weak slappy line drives, which rarely translate in to extra base hits. For this reason, his ceiling is limited. His speed and excellent sense in the outfield translate to an outstanding defensive game, among the best in the Yankee farm system. His arm is average, although fairly accurate.

Performance: A former walk on at Charleston, Gardner has been constantly progressing as he moves up the minor league ladder. He was one of the many stars in Staten Island last year. This year, he started at Tampa and earned his promotion to AA with a .323/.433/.418 line and 30 stolen bases in 63 games. His performance at Trenton was not excellent, but it did show some good signs with a .272/.352/.318 line. Although his power dissolved, Gardner continued to show a special ability to reach base. Gardner then went to the AFL, where he has stumbled since starting off incredibly hot. Still, he has managed to put up a .252/.414/.359 line with 6 stolen bases in 26 games.

Outlook: Garder will be a major league player in some context. His ability to at least hit for doubles into the gap and his ability to maintain a respectable batting average will determine the role that he plays. In both Trenton and Arizona, he has shown a worrying tendency to strike out. In 26 games in Arizona, he has struck out 21 times (walking 27 times by the way). In 118 games in 2006 between Tampa and Trenton, he struck out 90 times while walking 70 times. A power hitter can afford to strike out, but a speedster like Gardner needs balls in play in order to reach base. Gardner has Juan Pierre type tools, with a little bit more on the plate discipline side of things than Pierre does. He plays better defense than Pierre. But the reason that Pierre was able to be a marginally good major league player for a couple of years was his ability to not strike out. By not striking out a lot, Pierre was able to hit .320+. Gardner will need to hit .300+ to allow his plate discipline to take over and be an effective hitter despite the lack of power. He can't strike out 110+ times a year and do that.

Grades: Ceiling B-, Health A, Chance of Reaching Majors 70%. Comparison: Dave Roberts

Prospect Profile: T.J. Beam (#14)

Age: 26
Height: 6'7"
Weight: 215
Drafted: 10th round in 2003 out of U Mississippi
Position: Relief Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: T.J. Beam did not have the stuff to remain a starter, as is common with many excellent relief pitchers. He has an excellent fastball, which clocks in at 93-95 mph, touching as high as 97 on the gun. He uses his lanky body to full effective, producing a deceptive top-down movement on his fastball. He'll see a lot of hitters swing and miss on balls in the dirt as a result. He complements it with an even better slider, at about 83-84 mph. He can place it anywhere he wants, almost as if he was locating a good fastball. Beam has experiemented with a slow looping curveball, changeup, and cutter in the past but none developed into a decent pitch.

Command: His true asset as a reliever is his ability to command that slider. He can place it anywhere he wants, almost as if he was locating a good fastball. He is not slouch with the fastball either, possessing command among the best in the Yankee system. When he walks somebody, he usually means to. Despite struggles early in his career, he posses a 3.54 career K/BB ratio and a 2.59 ERA.

Outlook: T.J. Beam struggled at first in the majors. This can be expected, considering that he entered the 2005 season in Low A Charleston. Beam has never been less than excellent at every step of the minors since converting to the bullpen. He will be an excellent major league reliever, and could put up some stellar seasons. I have a lot of faith in Beam, and the Yankees clearly do too. After not pitching an inning over Tampa, they put him on the 40-man prior to last season. He could prove to be a workhorse too, as he pitched over 90 innings last season. He will return to the Columbus bullpen, and should be the first to be called up to the major leagues. He'll be 27 in August, so time is certainly a concern. He may be the oldest prospect on this list, but do not read too much in to that. He was drafted after four years in college at 23 years old and only converted to a reliever around his 25th birthday.

Grades: Ceiling B, Health A, Chance of Reaching Majors 95%, Comparison: Steve Karsay

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Prospect Profile: Steve White (#15)

Age: 24
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: 4th round in 2003 out of Baylor University
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: The big righty draws most of his strength from his two fastballs. He uses his long legs to pump his fastball up to the mid 90s. He is capable of throwing 95-97, but easily loses his command if he attempts to. The Yankees have him settling down at the 93-94 mph range, staying away from the meat of the plate. When not overthrowing, his fastball is a strength. He throws an above average major league slurvy curveball at 76-80 mph. He compliments this with a near-plus changeup at about 80 mph. points out that since he isn't throwing at full effort, he can stay effective deep in to games.

Command: If White is going to succeed, it will not be for lack of stuff. He certainly has the tools to compete as a good major league starter. That said, White's head is his greatest enemy. He has had trouble adjusting to higher levels, struggling both when first exposed to AA and AAA hitters. The Yankees believe that this is due to White trying and failing to throw the ball harder when he gets in to jams. He gets very nervous out on the mound. His control is not a strongpoint, but does improve considerably when he calms down. When focused, he has a reputation of a tactical baseball mind.

Outlook: White has a few things going for him. He is just 24 years old. His health record is exceptional (he was hurt by nagging non-arm related injuries such as an oblique strain in 2005, but pitched 175.1 innings in 2006), and his low-stress approach to pitching bodes well to his potential as a starting pitcher. The Yankees have a lot of faith in White, calling him up along with Hughes, Cox, and Clippard to sit in during the later regular season. White is however in danger of suffering from "Sean Henn syndrom" if he struggles at first in the major leagues. Joe Torre does not like to give rookie pitchers a second chance. Steve White may end up being trade bait because of this.

Grades: Ceiling B-, Health B+, Chance of Reaching Majors 65%, Comparison: Steve Trachsel throwing a little harder.