January 2006

Tribe Talk

Some organizations just get it. By no means am I trying to disparage other organizations, but the Cleveland Indians just know how to do things the right way these days.

Case in point: the Coco Crisp deal (we won’t go into the terrific Arthur Rhodes for Jason Michaels trade in this forum). Don’t get me wrong, Coco Crisp is a nice little player and he had a breakout in 2005. And he’s young. Will he continue to evolve and be a good leadoff hitter for the Red Sox? Who knows. But after assuring they had Michaels’ bat in the Rhodes deal, the Indians were able to turn Crisp into one of the best prospects in baseball — and arguably the best third base prospect (one of the few positions where the Indians have no depth in their system) in Andy Marte, a pretty darned good catching prospect in Kelly Shoppach, who was stuck behind Jason Varitek AND a legitimate setup man in Guillermo Mota.

But that may not be all. It sounds like they got Shoppach included perhaps because of Mota’s injury possibilities. In addition, depending on the report, they’ll also get a PTBN (Player to be Named). It may be a player they get only if Mota ends up on the DL, but even so…getting three players who could contribute in 2006 (though Marte, it seems, will really contribute starting in 2007), addressing an organizational need at third, building out a bullpen that was an achilles heel in 2006 and getting a very solid catcher who could backup Victor Martinez this year and is more than ready to catch every day should something happen to Martinez (or if/when he’s ready to change positions) — can you think of another organization who would get all that, then be able to hedge their bets on Mota with a PTBN? At the very least, they’ve got some more chips for trades (especially Shoppach) if they compete in the AL Central as I fully expect them to.

So kudos to the Indians. I know folks in Cleveland didn’t want to see Coco go. He’s a fun player. But trust me on this one, they continue to set themselves up for success in the short-term and for years to come.

Free the Prospect!

Just a short time before the radio show starts…

Every year, there are prospects who are ready for the big leagues, but won’t have the opportunity — or won’t be given the opportunity, to get a shot because there’s some veteran ahead of him. Last year was a good one for stuck prospects, as Dan Johnson and Ryan Howard got the opportunity to show what they could do and ran with it big time.

So here are some early nominees for Free the Prospect! campaigns. Most of the guys thisFeel free to chime in with your own choices…

1. Justin Huber, 1B, Royals. Wouldn’t bother me as much if he wasn’t now blocked by the offensively deficient Doug Mientkiewicz. With all due respect to Mr. M, the Royals are a young team who should be rebuilding with prospects like Huber. The guy can hit and now Dougie’s in his way.

2. Carlos Quentin, OF, D-Backs. Quentin wouldn’t have been a real option in center anyway, but with Eric Byrnes in the fold now, there’s really no room for Quentin. He’s got absolutely nothing left to prove in the Minors at this point, but looks like he’ll spend more quality time in Tucson.

3. Angels first basemen? If Darin Erstad moves to center, then Casey Kotchman finally gets a full-time gig. That could open DH at-bats for Kendry Morales, who’s bat will be ready, if not on Opening Day, then soon thereafter. But if Erstad needs to move back to first, then we’re back the same issue as last year, when Kotchman was blocked. He’s good enough defensively to play the field and Morales has to get his shot when he’s ready. Even with Erstad in the outfield, it’s a lot to ask a young player like Morales to become a full-time DH, so something may have to shift here.

I’ll have more nominees later, but feel free to weigh in…

Getting ready in the Burgh

Here we go…

It’s hard not to get caught up in Steelers fever here in my hometown of Pittsburgh. And if you listened to my show on MLB Radio today, I mixed in some baseball with the Steelers hysteria (forgive my singing in the open). We had three prospects with Pittsburgh ties on the program: Neil Walker (Pirates), Kevin Slowey (Twins) and Josh Wilson (Rockies). I could’ve gone on — Donnie Kelly (Tigers), Ben Copeland (Giants) — who knew so many baseball players came from this area?

And that’s not all. We’ve got a veritable who’s who of scouting executives from the Burgh — Jack Zdurencik (Brewers), John Mirabelli (Indians), Jack Bowen (Pirates) — just to name a few.

So just don’t think football when you think about the Iron City…mmmm, Iron City. Think baseball as well — especially with the All-Star Game coming in July.

Oh, and a prediction: Big Ben says "Thin air? What thin air?" Steelers 24, Broncos 14

Watching careers develop

Hey all. Again, apologies for going blog-less for a while. Just got back from the Rookie Career Development Program. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a great retreat run together (if you can believe that) by Major League Baseball and the Players Association. The top upper-level prospects are invited and attend seminars that help them prepare for everything life as a Major Leaguer can mean, especially off-the-field situations and crises. Everything from finances to dealing with personalities in a big league clubhouse is covered in an interesting and insightful way. Don’t believe me? Then check out our video interviews and see the players praise the program themselves.

Attending the program was a real kickoff to the 2006 season for me. Being able to talk baseball with future stars like Ryan Zimmerman, Lastings Milledge, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver was an outstanding introduction to what I’m sure is going to be another banner year on MiLB.com. I’ve already gotten started on the new Top 50 prospects list for 2006, which will be announced at some point in March. And I just handed in some fantasy rankings as part of the big site’s 2006 Fantasy Preview. Not sure when those are coming out, but when they do, keep in mind they were done with a focus on 2006 impact only. In other words, the guy who might be the top prospect in all of baseball might not top the fantasy rankings this year.

I would tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you.

Rose Bowl genius

If only I had listened to my own advice.

Yesterday on my radio show, I unveiled what I think is now a foolproof way to predict the winner of the Rose Bowl each year. And just so you don’t think I’m doing this in hindsight, listen to the open of Around the Minors from yesterday.

Here’s how it works: Very basically, whichever college in the Rose Bowl that had more baseball players in the previous June’s baseball draft taken, that’s the school that will win in Pasadena. Not convinced? Take a look at the evidence:

2005 Rose Bowl: Texas 38, Michigan 37
2004 MLB Draft: Texas 9 players drafted, Michigan 3 players drafted

2004 Rose Bowl: USC 28, Michigan 14
2003 Draft: USC 6, Michigan 3

2003 Rose Bowl: Oklahoma 34, Washington St. 14
2002 Draft: Oklahoma 2, Washington St. 1

2002 Rose Bowl: Miami 37, Nebraska 14
2001 Draft: Miami 10, Nebraska 8

And, last night…

2006 Rose Bowl: Texas 41, USC 38
2005 Draft: Texas 7, USC 5

Need I say more? I think not. See you in Vegas next January!

Kicking off the new year

Hey all —

Sorry been away for so long, but family time over the holidays trumped blogging time. Hope everyone enjoyed the holiday season (I hope my "PC" reference to the season doesn’t offend anyone).

Things are still moving on the Minor League front, though it’s slowed down a bit. Still, some interesting moves to dissect. Right now, my nominee for the worst person to be in baseball is a top-level starting pitching prospect in San Diego.

Why? I’m glad you asked. Well, with the almost-official signing of Shawn "have left arm and innings, will travel" Estes, the Padres have about 47 veteran arms set to come to camp. The Padres rotation now will look something like this:

Jake Peavy
Woody Williams
Shawn Estes
Chan Ho Park
Chris Young

That leaves young pitchers like Clay Hensley, Tim Stauffer and the recently acquired Dewon Brazelton competing for rotation spots that might not actually be up for competition. None of the guys listed above are non-roster invitees — that’s a bunch of guaranteed money on the table. Will the Padres be willing to cut losses with Chan Ho if he still can’t get people out and let one of the young guys go? And they’re still talking with the Red Sox about David Wells? Who gets bounced then, the key to the Eaton deal? I don’t think so. Maybe Stauffer will never regain the pure stuff he had before his injury. But could he possible be any worse than Chan Ho Park? And I know he’s a heck of a lot cheaper. And did they trade away Sean Burroughs for Brazelton just to rid themselves of Burroughs? Or were they really in desperate need for a starter in Portland? First-round pick Cesar Carrillo looked like a fast-track candidate who could reach PETCO by midseason. Now? Enjoy Mobile, Alabama in 2006, Cesar.

Maybe things clear up in 2007. The younger guys — Young (signed through 2007 with a club option for 2008) and Peavy (locked up through 2008 with a club option in 2009) — are rightly staying put.  Estes’ deal appears to be a one-year job and Williams and Park are done after 2006. So there could be a few openings in ’07. Of course, who knows how many mediocre veteran arms will be out there on the market to fill them up…

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