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If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. Please include your full name and hometown if you'd like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column. Also, please understand that we can't respond to every question.

By Jim Callis

March 23, 2006

You know how you can tell that there's a whole lot of nothing going on in spring training? When the will-Alfonso-Soriano-play-left-field story dominates baseball for days. Thankfully, that's over now.

    Each season, there are good prospects who elevate themselves into elite status. Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart (No. 57 on the Top 100 Prospects list in 2004, No. 4 in 2005) and Angels shortstop Brandon Wood (No. 83 in 2005, No. 3 in 2006) are two recent examples. What prospects are going to make a similar jump this year?

    Mike Parnell
    Boston

Great question, Mike. Most of the prospects who make that leap are young guys without much of a track record rather than older players who suddenly break out in the upper minors. When I combed through the current Top 100 list looking for candidates, I found eight guys who piqued my interest—none of whom played above Class A in 2005.

It won't be a huge jump, but I think Diamondbacks outfielder Carlos Gonzales (No. 32 on this year's list) will be in the top 10 next year. He's going to be a .300-hitting, 30-homer right fielder with a strong arm, and he's going to put up monster numbers in the high Class A California League in 2006.

My other breakout candidates, all from the bottom half of the Top 100: Dodgers lefthander Scott Elbert (No. 55) and third baseman Blake DeWitt (No. 82), Reds outfielder Jay Bruce (No. 76), Cubs lefty Mark Pawelek (No. 85), Angels righty Nick Adenhart (No. 90), Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold (No. 99) and Twins righty Anthony Swarzak (No. 100).

As a bonus, I'll give you two more guys I like who just missed the Top 100 cut. Shortstop Reid Brignac and righty Wade Davis, both Devil Rays, are going to make bigger names for themselves in 2006.

    Which of the top draft prospects are being advised by Scott Boras? If your favorite team is picking early, like mine (the Pirates) is at No. 4 overall, this can be a deal-breaker in determining their choice.

    Wilbur Miller
    Silver Spring, Md.

We've confirmed that Boras is advising eight prospects for the 2006 draft, all college players. In order of how they ranked on our initial College Top 100 Prospects list , they are: Missouri righthander Max Scherzer (No. 3), Southern California righty Ian Kennedy (No. 5), Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta (No. 7), Arizona shortstop Jason Donald (No. 17), Arizona State outfielder Colin Curtis (No. 19), Cal Poly righty Gary Daley (No. 24), Tulane first baseman Mark Hamilton (No. 33) and Mississippi third baseman Chris Coghlan (No. 38).

While Boras usually steers his advisees to high-revenue teams and away from small-revenue clubs, his reputation won't necessarily torpedo their draft position or bonus. Last year, he advised seven players with legitimate first-round aspirations: Georgia Tech shortstop Tyler Greene, St. John's righty Craig Hansen, Tennessee righty Luke Hochevar, Baylor righty Mark McCormick, Utah high school lefty Mark Pawelek, Wichita State righty Mike Pelfrey and Texas catcher Taylor Teagarden.

Only Greene went as high as he would have if signability didn't factor into the picture. But Pelfrey ($5.25 million) and Hansen ($4 million) landed the only big league contracts handed out to 2005 draftees. Pawelek received the third-highest bonus given a pitcher ($1.75 million). All three went in the first round, as did Greene, who got slightly more than slot money ($1.1 million) as the 30th overall pick. McCormick was a supplemental first-rounder who signed for slot money ($800,000). The only one of the seven who didn't go in the first round was Teagarden, who late supplemental first-round money ($725,000) as a third-rounder.

Teams don't enjoy dealing with Boras, but with the exception of Hochevar, whose negotiations with the Dodgers devolved into one of the bigger draft debacles ever, his clients didn't make out badly at all last year.

    Do you think it might be about time to reconsider some of the non-Americans when choosing your Top 100 Prospects? The Top 100 demographics show Americans holding a whopping 82 of the 100 spots, yet with the top U.S. major leaguers struggling so badly against the rest of the world, perhaps it's time to give more attention to players from other nations. Losing one game can be written off as a fluke, but finishing 3-3 ain't no fluke. It appears that there's now more than one country that can play this game. Maybe next year, BA's Top 100 Prospects will reflect that. On the bright side, maybe the Americans will get to play South Africa again in 2009.

    Michael Dominguez
    Oshawa, Ontario

Apples and oranges, Michael, apples and oranges. I still don't comprehend why people were so surprised at the outcome of the World Baseball Classic.

With a limited amount of games, all of the legitimate contenders were very vulnerable. And no one who follows baseball closely should be surprised that Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico and Venezuela also had a lot of talent. With the final two rounds coming down to single-game showdowns, any of those nations or the United States could have won the WBC if their pitching got hot.

To get back to the question, I don't see what the results of a few glorified all-star games have to do with our Top 100 Prospects list. The Top 100 doesn't reflect any belief that Americans know how to play the game better than anyone else. It's simply the best 100 prospects in the game, period.

Check out the rosters for the annual Futures Game—click here to see the 2005 squads—and you'll see that the U.S. team is always more stacked than the World team. That's because the majority of pros are signed out of the United States, so there's a deeper pool of talent to choose from.

Last year, 40 of the 64 players selected to play in the All-Star Game were Americans. I don't think the demographics of our Top 100 are out of whack by any means.

March 16, 2006

I missed much of the World Baseball Classic while on vacation, but I've enjoyed catching up since my return. Nice breakout performances by Curacao's Shairon Martis (Giants) and Canada's Adam Stern (Red Sox), even if their teams didn't advance to the second round. Kudos to Korea, which surprisingly asserted itself as the best Asian team in the WBC, and to Cuba, which got through clubs laden with big leaguers to reach the final round. Japan only added to its reputation for underachieving on the biggest international stages.

One thing they need to fix for next time is these goofy tiebreakers. Using runs allowed per nine innings is silly—it should be run differential per nine. But as it is, the only way Mexico advances is if it beats the United States tonight 3-0 or 4-0 in 13 or 14 innings. Why should Mexico even try to score in regulation? If Mexico takes the tiebreaking formula seriously, it could make a real travesty of the game.

    Can you think of an organization in recent history (or ever) with a collection of talented offensive prospects comparable to the ones the Diamondbacks currently possess?

    Travis Orton
    Flagstaff, Ariz.

When we unveiled our latest Top 100 Prospects list, Arizona had an astounding six players (all hitters) in the first 32 slots: shortstops Justin Upton (No. 2) and Stephen Drew (No. 5), first baseman Conor Jackson (No. 17) and outfielders Carlos Quentin (No. 20), Chris Young (No. 23) and Carlos Gonzales (No. 32).

That's unprecedented since we began doing overall Top 100 lists in 1990. Only one other team had five position players in the Top 50. The 1993 Braves had Chipper Jones (No. 1), Javy Lopez (No. 20), Ryan Klesko (No. 26), Mike Kelly (No. 34) and Melvin Nieves (No. 39).

We've been doing organization Top 10 lists since 1983, so I scanned them from 1983-89. I couldn't find a group of hitters that would have been as highly regarded as the Diamondbacks are now. The deepest crop belonged to the 1986 Reds, whose Top 10 included Kurt Stillwell (No. 1), Kal Daniels (No. 2), Joe Oliver (No. 3), Paul O'Neill (No. 4), Tracy Jones (No. 7), Barry Larkin (No. 8) and Lenny Harris (No. 10), all of whom had significant careers.

I went back and looked at some teams that I remembered having a lot of good young hitters when I first started following baseball. I came up with four clubs that had several future big league hitters in their system at one point, but I don't think any of them would have placed six guys in the top 32. The closest would have been the 1967 Kansas City Athletics. Reggie Jackson and Rick Monday would have ranked that high, as would have Dave Duncan, coming off a 46-homer season in high Class A. The A's also had Joe Rudi (who might have been in the middle of a Top 100), Sal Bando (who might have been toward the end) and Gene Tenace (who wouldn't have been close to the list).

The next-closest would have been the 1971 Dodgers, whose system was highlighted by Bobby Valentine and Steve Garvey. Tom Paciorek, Bill Buckner and Ron Cey all would have made the Top 100 but probably not the upper third, while Joe Ferguson was a borderline Top 100 candidate.

Two other teams jumped out in terms of future big league regulars, but they all weren't hyped at the time. The 1969 Pirates had Al Oliver and Manny Sanguillen, who likely would have made the Top 100, and Dave Cash, Richie Hebner, Al Oliver and Bob Robertson, who likely would have missed. Likewise, the 1972 Red Sox had three possible Top 100 guys in Cecil Cooper, Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice, as well as Rick Burleson, Dwight Evans, Rick Miller and Ben Oglivie.

That's a long way of saying that I can't come up with a farm system that had as many highly regarded position players as Arizona has right now. If the Diamondbacks can come up with some pitching, they should be battling the Dodgers for National League West supremacy for years to come.

    With what seemed to be an inevitable move for the Dodgers, do you think Joel Guzman's shift to left field will speed his climb to the major leagues? Los Angeles has much less depth and talent in the outfield than in the infield.

    Jason Yoder
    Loveland, Ohio

Undoubtedly. Scouts already had doubts about Guzman's ability to stick at shortstop, and then the Dodgers closed off that position by signing Rafael Furcal for three years and $39 million. The next most obvious position to move Guzman to might have been third base, but Los Angeles gave Bill Mueller a two-year, $9.5 million deal and also have prospects Andy LaRoche and Blake DeWitt at the hot corner.

Scouts have been comparing Guzman to Juan Gonzalez for the last two years, and the move to the outfield makes a lot of sense. Guzman would probably fit best in right field, currently occupied by J.D. Drew, but the left-field competition is wide open, with Jose Cruz the frontrunner and Jason Repko, Ricky Ledee and injured Jayson Werth also in the mix.

Guzman is hitting .313/.353/.563 in 32 spring at-bats while Cruz and Ledee have been off at the World Baseball Classic. He certainly has the most upside of that group, and even if he starts the year at Triple-A Las Vegas, I suspect we'll see him in the Dodgers lineup before the all-star break.

    If Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler wins the American League rookie of the year award, would he be the first recipient of that award who didn't appear in BA's Top 100 Prospects list that year?

    Michael Wallace
    Dallas

There have been 32 league rookie of the year awards handed out since we unveiled our first Top 100 in 1990. Ten of those have gone to players who didn't make our Top 100, though Japanese veterans Hideo Nomo (1995, Dodgers) and Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000, Mariners) weren't eligible for the list based on our criteria at the time.

The others: David Justice (1990, Braves), Eric Karros (1992, Dodgers), Pat Listach (1992, Brewers), Bob Hamelin (1994, Royals), Marty Cordova (1995, Twins), Eric Hinske (2002, Blue Jays), Jason Jennings (2002, Rockies) and Angel Berroa (2003, Royals). All of those players did make our organization Top 10s before their standout rookie seasons, with Jennings and Karros ranking the lowest at No. 7.

March 2, 2006

Over at ESPN.com, Rob Neyer has been discussing the merits of hitting prospects versus pitching prospects. One of his main points is that in general, hitters are a safer bet to pan out than pitchers. I agree with him on that. But twice in the last couple of weeks, he has speculated about how Baseball America rates prospects, specifically hitters versus pitchers. And his suppositions were wrong in both cases.

In a Feb. 17 column, Rob wrote:

Some years ago, Baseball America's No. 1 and No. 2 prospects were Mark Prior and Josh Beckett. Now, I could be wrong about this, but I doubt if that would happen again today. In this year's Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Jim Callis has six hitters ranked ahead of his top-ranked pitcher (Francisco Liriano), and he's got only five pitchers listed among the top 20 prospects.

Then in a Feb. 28 chat, Rob fielded this question:

Todd (Boston): Rob, both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus seemed to shy away from ranking pitchers as high this year. Do you think this is because there are legitimately better hitting prospects or because they fear another Todd Van Poppel?
Rob Neyer: Pitching prospects aren't as prospecty as hitting prospects. Simple as that.

While we do acknowledge that hitters are a better percentage play than pitchers, we evaluate each prospect on their own merits. If Felix Hernandez didn't exceed 50 innings in the majors last year, he would have been No. 1 on our Top 100 Prospects list. If there were 2002 versions of Beckett and Prior (Beckett actually ranked ahead of Prior on our Top 100 back then) in the minors right now, they would have presented a stiff challenge to Delmon Young for the No. 1 spot and would have ranked in the top three or four spots.

The reason I didn't rank a lot of pitchers high on my Top 50 list in the Handbook and BA didn't have a lot of arms at the start of the Top 100 is that there just aren't as many attractive pitching prospects as usual. I think it's just cyclical, and not an indication of any pending shortage. But once you get past the obvious big four (Liriano, Matt Cain, Chad Billingsley and Justin Verlander), there are very, very few pitchers who have stuff, polish, a track record of success in the upper minors and a clean medical history. Even Liriano and Cain had serious arm problems in the minors.

In that Feb. 17 column, Rob also references a Baseball Prospectus column from 2002 and notes that the writer (Paul Covert) concluded that a pitcher should never be ranked among the top five prospects. One thing about that BP column that Rob didn't mention was the conclusion:

To return to Jim Callis's example: if I had Josh Beckett on my team, and Callis offered me [Hank] Blalock or [Sean] Burroughs or even Wilson Betemit for him, would I do the deal? In a heartbeat. Among pitching prospects, there is no such thing as a sure thing.

That's why it's silly to make definitive statements about pitchers being too risky. (I'd also submit that among hitting prospects, there's no such thing as a sure thing either.) This offseason, the Rangers offered Blalock and their best pitching prospects to the Marlins for Beckett and Mike Lowell's overpriced contract—and they were turned down. Burroughs got traded for the immortal Dewon Brazelton. The Braves didn't trust Betemit enough to give him their wide-open shortstop job, preferring instead to deal blue-chip prospect Andy Marte for creaky Edgar Renteria.

If you're running a farm system and you load up on hitters because they're a surer thing than pitchers, good luck finding quality arms for your big league club. It's unfortunate, but to find pitching you're probably going to have your heart broken by some failed pitching prospects. As with most things related to baseball, a balance is necessary. If I consider a hitting prospect and a pitching prospect to be roughly equal, I'll usually side with the hitter. But sandbagging on the pitchers to try to look better is foolish.

Ask BA will be taking next week off, but will return on March 16. Before I go I'll answer three questions and give you my pick to win the World Baseball Classic: Venezuela.

    On the Top 100 Prospects list, Baseball America listed two Mariners catchers, Jeff Clement at No. 33 and Kenji Johjima at No. 66. Clement was given an ETA of 2007. With Johjima having signed a three-year contract, what's the expectation for Clement? Do you suspect a platoon situation, or will Clement be traded? I would think that Johjima will be the starter for at least the length of his contract, assuming he doesn't turn into Kaz Matsui. That would leave Clement in the minors until 2009.

    Brendan Ramsden
    Amesbury, Mass.

The Mariners aren't going to worry about having two quality catchers until Clement is ready for the majors.

Johjima is an established Japanese major leaguer who should be a solid to good player in the United States. I don't see him as a definite all-star, but he should hit .275 with 15 homers and play solid defense. Clement, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 draft, has tremendous power and showed significant improvement as both a hitter and a defender as a junior at Southern California. He'll provide more offense than Johjima, who will stand out more behind the plate.

Seattle has made significant investments in both players. Johjima's deal is worth $16.5 million, while Clement got a $3.4 million bonus, a club record for a draft pick. Clement probably won't be ready before mid-2007, so the Mariners will have at least a year and a half before they have to figure out how to get both players into the lineup.

Assuming that Johjima performs as expected, his salary would be reasonable enough to make him attractive on the trade market. If the Mariners hold onto both for the length of Johjima's contract, Clement could get more of his at-bats at first base or DH while backing up Johjima at catcher. Clement has more than enough bat to move to another position where more offense will be demanded.

These situations often have a way of working themselves out. Just a year ago, the Red Sox seemed to have more shortstops than they knew what to do with. Since then, Boston has traded Edgar Renteria and Hanley Ramirez and moved Dustin Pedroia to second base and Luis Soto to right field. Now the Red Sox have no obvious long-term shortstop.

    Where would Albert Callaspo rank on the Diamondbacks Top 10 list?

    Simon Boisvert
    Montreal

    It seems to me that the Angels should have got more for Alberto Callaspo then Jason Bulger. Why did they not go after Matt Chico, Tony Pena or Micah Owings? I think Callaspo is flying under the radar because he was overshadowed by Howie Kendrick in the Angels system. Why did he go so cheap?

    James P. Tate
    Guthrie, Okla.

The Diamondbacks system has gone through a lot of change since we finalized their Top 10 for the Prospect Handbook. Arizona has traded for outfielder Chris Young and Callaspo and signed shortstop Justin Upton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

I'd line up their revised Top 10 in this order: Upton, shortstop Stephen Drew, first baseman Conor Jackson, outfielder Carlos Quentin, Young, outfielder Carlos Gonzales, righthander Dustin Nippert, catcher Miguel Montero, righthander Garrett Mock and Callaspo. Ranking 10th on that list is no slap in the face, because when we update our farm-system rankings for our upcoming Minor League Preview issue, Arizona will be No. 1.

The Angels were in a tough position with Callaspo. Adam Kennedy is going to get their big league at-bats at second base, and Howie Kendrick is going to get their Triple-A at-bats. They really didn't have a place to play Callaspo, and while he's a good prospect, Kendrick is a great prospect.

Callaspo is a career .315 hitter in the minors and he's an exceptional contact hitter. He has led the minors in most plate appearances per strikeout in each of the last two years, including a rate of 20.4 in 2005. But he doesn't stand out in any other area offensively. He doesn't have much more than doubles power and his career slugging percentage is just .424. He has walked just 166 times in 544 pro games, so he has to hit for a high average to have a respectable on-base percentage. He has some speed but is just 73-for-123 (59 percent) as a pro basestealer.

A slick-fielding second baseman who also can handle shortstop, Callaspo figures to make Arizona's big legue club as a reserve middle infielder. I could see him becoming a decent regular but I don't see a lot of star potential. The Angels needed to move him, and I'd take Bulger over Chico and Pena because he's major league-ready. The Diamondbacks couldn't trade Owings until the one-year anniversary of his signing last summer, and I doubt they would have made him available in this deal.

    How is Bryan Morris doing at Motlow State (Tenn.) CC? I know he didn't sign with the Devil Rays after they took him in the third round last June. Do you see him improving his draft position by going to school?

    Drew Henson
    Tullahoma, Tenn.

Morris wanted to sign with the Devil Rays last summer. The two sides agreed on a $1.3 million bonus, which was more in line with Morris' status as a borderline first-round talent. But Tampa Bay's upper management kept dragging its heels on signing off on the deal—reportedly, incoming managing partner Stuart Sternberg was in favor of it while outgoing managing partner Vince Naimoli was against it—so Morris decided to attend Motlow State, where his father Ricky is an assistant coach.

Tampa Bay still controls Morris' rights and can sign him between the time Motlow State's season ends and a week before the 2006 draft. Now that Naimoli has left and Sternberg is running the Rays, there's a good chance the two sides could get that $1.3 million deal completed in May.

Morris isn't doing anything to hurt his standing at Motlow. He's still showing a plus fastball and a power curveball, as well as an intriguing slider and a developing changeup. He has made three starts, going 2-1, 0.53 with 26 strikeouts and just eight hits allowed in 17 innings. He also has played some center field and DHed for the Bucks, hitting .258 with six RBIs in 10 games.

If Morris doesn't sign with Tampa Bay, and he keeps displaying the same stuff and achieving the same results, he could go in the first round in June. He might have last summer if he wasn't considered somewhat of a tough sign after his dad told scouts he wanted Bryan to pitch for him for at least one season.