March 2006

Top 50 post-op

By now, most of you have either watched the Top 50 prospects show (you can watch it now if you’d like) or read through the list. Many of you have had plenty to say about guys who didn’t make the list. We appreciate all the mail and you can keep sending in suggestions/complaints to jonathan.mayo@mlb.com. Keep a watch out for a special Top 50-related mailbag on MiLB.com soon.

But don’t think that you’re the only ones who wish certain guys were on the list. Both Lisa and I have some "favorites" we would’ve liked to have seen make the Top 50. I’ll stand by the list, for sure, but there certainly are guys we both liked that in a perfect world, would’ve been on there. With that in mind, here’s what we both had to say about a favorite omission:

Jonathan: If I had to pick one guy I wanted to see on the list, it’d be Josh Barfield. Part of it is a position scarcity thing — there just aren’t that many really good second basemen around (you could make a similar case for Ian Kinsler over in Texas). Part of it is because he won the second base job for the Padres by hitting .392 and slugging .745 this spring. And part of it is that he’s good, plain and simple. He’s actually been on the list in the past and I think his subpar 2004 season in Double-A had some people moving him down on their lists. But he rebounded after a slow start last year to hit .310 in Triple-A, right in line with his .300 career average. He’s also a guy who should hit double-digit homers and steal 20 bags a year.

Lisa: While I’m not saying there is anyone I would have left off of this 50, one player I would have had in mine would be Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, whom the club acquired from Oakland for Milton Bradley in one of the steals of the off-season. The 2005 Texas League MVP, Ethier can hit for average and power and his makeup is off the charts. The rich got richer with this trade and while they have two outfield stud prospects in Joel Guzman and Matt Kemp, Ethier is the one who is closest since Guzman is making the transition from shortstop and Kemp is still raw, having focused more on basketball than baseball in high school.

Shuffling off to Buffalo

We got the following question from a reader and thought it’d make for good blog fodder:

Our Indians forum has decided to abide by your opinions on a subject we have no agreement upon.  The question is:  How many major league GMs would trade their pitching staff en mass for the Buffalo pitching staff?  The assumption includes Davis and Guthrie, which the forum believes will be sent down, but does not include pitchers who are expected to start at Akron such as Miller, Sipp and Perez.  There is considerable disagreement.  Thanks! — Norman, San Diego

This is a really good question … right now, with just over a week to go until Major League Opening Day (and almost two weeks until the Bisons open), I think the back end of their rotation is still somewhat up in the air but I like what I see so far.

You’ve probably got Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers as the 1-2 punch, possibly not in that order, and that alone makes the rotation one to reckon with. Jeremy Guthrie will also be there and he’s in something of a make or break year … a first-rounder who really has been a disappointment. He opened a few eyes this spring and perhaps is ready to turn the corner.

Though Jason Stanford isn’t technically a "prospect," with 61 big league innings under his belt, he’s missed most of the last two years due to injury but it looks like he’ll also be in the rotation.  Stanford So that leaves the No. 5 spot in question with several interesting candidates. Jason Davis, however, probably isn’t one of them even if he does head back to Buffalo. It appears that the Indians plan on leaving him in the bullpen full-time. Also in the Buffalo pen will be prospects such as Andrew Brown and Brian Slocum, which means you have at least three relievers who have been successful starters and could possibly return to that role down the line if the need arises.

I know the club is very high on both Jake Dittler and Dan Denham, who both had strong seasons at Double-A Akron last year, and new Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo is very familiar with both. I think either one could factor into the rotation, as could Jason Young.

Not sure what they’d do with the one(s) who don’t make it … I guess they’d head back to Akron for the time being (last year’s early-season Akron rotation of Carmona, Dittler, Denham, Slocum and injured J.D. Martin was one of the best in the Minors and Martin should be back mid-season from Tommy John surgery). That would give the Aeroes a trickle-down effect of yet another strong rotation (though I think the plans for Sipp probably still point to using him in relief). I’ve already circled April 10-11 on my calender to see them at Bowie.

So to answer your question … I doubt any major league GM would publicly ADMIT to coveting that rotation over what they have, but given the combined upside and depth (arguably seven or eight potential starters on the Buffalo staff!) I could think of at least five Major League rotations I would trade straight up for them right now. Obviously, it would have to be a team that is a year or two away from contending, if that helps.

Am I total geek if I admit that I can’t wait until Opening Day to spend the day online looking over rosters and checking out the rotations and lineups to see where everyone lands? – Lisa

Yes, Lisa, you are a total geek. But that’s why you fit right in to our MiLB family.

I can’t really add more than you did, but I’d maintain that there are some Major League clubs that with an upgrade of pitching, going from what they have to what  the Bisons could have, would move closer to contention. No offense to Bronson Arroyo et al, but I think the Reds would do better with the Bisons group than with sending Eric Milton out to the hill every five days. But that’s just me.

There will be some filter down because of the depth, but there’s no question that pitching-wise (and, to a certain extent, hitting-wise, too), the Indians’ talent is at the upper levels. Not that I have any concerns about that…I’d put the Indians scouting and player development staff up against anyone’s and there undoubtedly be a new wave of arms coming up behind the advanced group soon. — Jonathan

How do I keep up?

OK, clearly it’s going to be a struggle keeping up with Lisa on the word count front…

A word on the Cubs race for No. 5. I agree in general that the only way Guzman wins that job is if he’s deemed healthy. But I don’t think Hill gets the gig  because he’s got big league time. He wasn’t all that impressive in his callup and his command has always been an issue (well, at least until last year). Guzzie He hasn’t helped himself this spring by walking six and hitting three in nine innings. Of course, Guzman hasn’t been much better. I think this one may come down to who finishes stronger, who pitches well in that first start or two in Iowa or, quite simply, who’s turn comes up on April 15, the first day the big league club will need a No. 5 starter. My vote still goes for Guzzie, especially if Mark Prior is out for an extended period of time.

One last thing…if Dusty Baker considers the young pitchers on the Cubs staff his kids, I think someone needs to call social services. I certainly wouldn’t nominate him for father of the year. — Jonathan

I'm so impatient…

I couldn’t even wait until I had my own screen name set up so just for the record, this is Lisa, not Jonathan posting here!!!

I know the minor league season doesn’t officially get under way for another two weeks (well, the stateside season, anyway) but as I’m sure you can tell, Jonathan and I are ready to roll! I just want to peek my cyberhead in here to introduce myself to everyone that’s been reading the ATM blog (which means saying “hi” to myself as well, since I have been a regular reader of this site for awhile now).

There are no words to express how excited I am to become a part of this team and how much I’m looking forward to the ’06 season and many more to come! But I suspect that somehow I’ll find some …

Those of you that might be familiar with my writing over the last 14 years (17 if you count the Washington, D.C. folks who might have occasionally seen my stories when I was covering the Prince William Cannons in the Carolina League!) know that I am a devoted and dedicated fan of just about every aspect of Minor League Baseball, from analyzing the up-and-coming prospects to sussing out the sleepers, to telling the often compelling stories of the journeymen.

I’ll also occasionally slip into a Zooperstars costume to do the “Tootsie Roll” as Tiger Woodchuck or belt out a National Anthem just for the sake of journalism. (OK, so I’m an overaged American Idol wannabe as well).

I’ve rarely been at a loss for the written word (or the spoken one, as my daughter will be the first to tell you and Jonathan will be a quick second), but with the prospect of regular blogging on the horizon, I hope you as fans and readers will help us make this really proactive by sending in questions, ideas and thoughts …

With the two-week countdown in progress, one topic that Jonathan and I have been debating has been those positional battles that seem to have come down to a few prospects.

If you caught Tuesday’s “Around the Minors” radio show, you might have heard the two of us share our thoughts on who we thought might win the Cubs’ No. 5 rotation slot with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood both slated to start the season on the DL (quel shock!).

Hill_2The last official word we’d heard was that Cubs manager Dusty Baker had narrowed it down to a quartet of four rookies: Rich Hill (pictured), Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall and Jae Kuk Ryu. Of that group, only Hill has seen any major league time.

But, really, I think, we’re looking at Hill and Guzman.

So, who will it be? Whoever it is won’t be needed until mid-April, so the likelihood is both will start the year at Triple-A Iowa in the I-Cubs’ rotation … Baker won’t anoint a favorite, saying that it’s like picking a favorite child (I only have one, so I wouldn’t know about that).

I’ve gotta be leaning towards Hill at this point, though I think Guzzie has by far the best upside IF he can stay healthy.

Just the fact that it’s late March and he is still in the mix is a great sign for the Cubs. He’s been their top pitching prospect for the last few years, but has logged a grand total of just over 150 innings over the last three seasons. Last year he saw just 18 innings of work before heading to Arizona Fall League where he got in a few more starts.

Hill, on the other hand, pitched more than 150 innings last year and struck out 194 batters in 130 minor league innings, leading the minors in strikeouts per nine innings. His potential upside isn’t quite as high as that of Guzman but there isn’t quite as much of a need to be overly cautious with him at this point either.

Neither has been lights out this spring, not enough to lock up the job. In fact, Marshall has been the most consistent and impressive of the quartet but with just four games in his career over Class A, he’s got to be a real longshot for the job.

I think the Cubs will only go with Guzman as their No. 5 if they are sure he’s 100 percent. If he is, that will be great news for them … and for Cubs fans (rumor has it that there are a few of you out there), who will be treated to the long-overdue debut of a promising pitcher and a kid with a ton of charisma.

Otherwise, Hill would be the safest bet barring a late trade for free agent signing.

Jonathan, on the other hand, may disagree with this assessment …

Introducing…Lisa Winston

The ATM blog just got about 1,000 times better, people. From this point forward, Lisa Winston, who has covered the Minor Leagues as well as anyone for Baseball, then Sports Weekly, has joined the MLB.com family. In addition to her co-hosting Around the Minors when it goes to four days a week (every day but Wednesday), 12-1 p.m . ET in April, she’ll be doing plenty of writing and, you guessed it, plenty of blogging. This means two things: 1. This will become a much more active blog and 2. We’ll debate the top issues around the Minor Leagues on a regular basis. Hopefully, that will stir you to add your comments and come back early and often. There’s no question that this will quickly become the No. 1 Minors blog on the internet, so start making this the first place you look each and every day. Hope you’re all as excited as I am to add Lisa’s voice to ATM — Jonathan

Time for a short film?

We take a break from our regularly scheduled blogging on prospects in Spring Training for a movie tip.

This isn’t just any run-of-the-mill film though, and it does have a Minor League-related angle. Those who listen to the radio show, Around the Minors, might remember me having a trio of A’s Minor Leaguers on a while back (it was November 4, to be exact) who passed the time with the Stockton Ports by making a feature film called Dream Revolver (the link here will allow you to see the trailer they made).

Well, believe it or not, they edited the film down and got it entered into a film festival in Los Angeles. It’s a 55-minute short film that will be airing tonight (March 13) at 10:10 p.m. LA time in the New York Film and Video Festival (If your’e wondering, they’ve got a festival in NY as well, thus the name). If you’re in the area, go check it out (check out the schedule for ticket info). I’ll be honest with you…it’s a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. You never know, some producer sees it at this festival, decides to buy the rights to it and turn it into a real movie…and you can say you saw it before anyone else did.

If you do go and see it, report back here with a review. Thanks.

Minor League rotations, part II

It’s time to revisit the minor league rotation thing. Part I, you can see before, highlighted the probable rotation in Ft. Myers, the Twins’ affiliate in the Florida State League.

Today, we’ll jump up a couple levels (don’t worry, FSL fans, we’ll be coming back later on in this series) to the International League. It’s not often that you’ll find a staff full of prospects in Triple-A, but that’s what you’ll find in Pawtucket this year. It’s not as deep as Ft. Myers, but thanks to the Red Sox’ pitching depth, all Sox fans should head to Rhode Island when the big leaguers aren’t around to see the PawSox kids throw. Try this 1-2 combination of lefties on for size: Jon Lester, the lefty who was arguably the best pitcher in the Eastern League, and Abe Alvarez, who had a slightly disappointing 2005 season, but still has a big league future ahead of him. Add in David Pauley, who had a nice season in Portland last year and perhaps knuckleballer Charlie Zink (the knucklers are always fun), and you’ve got a pretty nifty rotation.

As good  as that rotation might be, it’s the bullpen that might be worth the price of admission. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to see any of these  outstanding arms  coming out of the PawSox pen: 2005 first-rounder Craig Hansen, Cla Meredith and Manny Delcarmen. There are big-league relief corps that don’t have that kind of firepower.

Phoenix, Peoria and ASU

Sorry I missed a day there, but I didn’t get back from my night foray into college baseball until late on Friday night.

So here’s my final post from Arizona before returning home to the Burgh. It’s been a long — and productive — week. My last two stops on this part of the tour (I’ll be back in Zona near the end of March) were Phoenix and Peoria. In the A’s clubhouse, I got to talk catching with Kurt Suzuki, pitching with Shane Komine and moving through the system as an outfielder with Danny Putnam. All in all, a nice take for a guy on the prowl with a microphone.

That night, I took a break from the world of professional baseball and headed to Tempe for a Friday night tilt between ASU and Auburn. Both schools are very young and don’t have much in the way of expecations this year, but my real reason for going is what’s going to be the next in our "Back to School" series. First came the Indians’ Justin Hoyman at a University of Florida game, courtesy of Kevin Czerwinski. Friday night, I attended the game with A’s outfielder (and 1st round pick last year from ASU) Travis Buck. A good time was had by all. And let me tell you — freshman Ike Davis can flat out swing the stick. He’s also a left-handed pitcher. He didn’t start this game because he had gone earlier in the week, but he did hit a grand slam about 450 feet through a palm tree well over the right-center field fence. Look for the story on Monday. (Quick culinary suggestion: try the chile relleno at Z’Tegas in Tempe. Good stuff)

Saturday morning, my last trip for the week, was to beautiful Peoria to see the Mariners. They’ve got an outstanding catcher’s row in the clubhouse, with Rene Rivera, Jeff Clement and Rob Johnson all lined up. A ‘B’ Game doesn’t excite most, but for a  prospect geek, it’s good fun. Here’s a nice tidbit: Matt Tuisasopo was playing third…a much more likely home for him than shortstop in the future.

Well, that’s all she wrote for this week. I’ll check in periodically and will be back in Arizona in a few weeks.

Good day for a prospect fan

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

I headed to Tempe with one initial goal — to interview Angels middle infield prospects Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick. That mission was accomplished and then some. Wood and Kendrick are  among the better interviews in all of Minor League Baseball and they play off each other like an old comedy team. So a good time was had by all.

Had that been it, I would’ve been happy. But while watching the pair workout on a back field in Tempe as cameraman Scott Caplan got extra footage of the duo, I turned to watch some of the pitchers get some side sessions in. There were some prospects of  times past, like Chris Bootcheck, and some with intriguing futures, like Jose Arredondo. But then I honed in on a young right-hander wearing No. 90. He was working on his two-seamer and his changeup, mostly on locating it down in the zone. The main point the pitching coach tried to make was for this youngster not to do too much — concentrate on keeping it down. Don’t worry about the side to side location. Greg Maddux, it was pointed out, can locate his change in and out and he’s 40. So this kid had 21 years to figure that part out. The young prospect’s name? Nick Adenhart. I’d never seen Adenhart throw in person before…he was arguably the top high school pitching prospect in the 2004 draft before blowing out his elbow weeks before the draft and requiring Tommy John surgery. The Angels, never afraid of taking a risk, drafted him in the 14th round even though it seemed certain he was headed to North Carolina and a redshirt year. But they convinced him to sign and he made it back sooner than expected, and he pictched remarkably well. It was only one session, but he was throwing free and easy, he was soaking up the information and then using that info into how he delivered the pitches he was working on. Command may be elusive for TJ surgery recovery pitchers, but Adenhart was keeping both pitches down in the zone more often than not.

Had I just talked to Kendrick and Wood and watched Nick Adenhart throw, that would have been enough. But then I got to chat with Arkansas manager Ty Boykin. Ty managed Brandon and Howie in Rancho (at least until Kendrick got promoted) and really broke down their games exceptionally well. Minor league managers are great to talk to and Boykin, who was a player in the Angels’ system once upon a time,  was no exception.

Had that been the end of my visit to Tempe, I would have been content. But then the last gift of the day came when I saw the team the Brewers brought to Tempe to play the Angels. Now some may have been disappointed by the lack of any Major League names, but not I. Alcides Escobar, Hernan Iribarren, Brad Nelson, Adam Heether, Angel Salome, Charlie Fermaint, Lou Palmisano, Darren Ford, Drew Anderson — need I say more? Oh, and Brewers Minor League pitcher of the year Tim Dillard started and was followed by pitching prospects like Yovani Gallardo and Mark Rogers. The fact the Brewers were spanked, 12-1, by the Angels (with some help from Kendrick and fellow prospects Kendry Morales and Jeff Mathis) is irrelevant. It’s one of the best things about Spring Training — all these players you hear about, you read about, you write about, you talk to scouts about — you get  the chance to see in action. Watching the 19-year-old Salome pick up the lone hit against AL Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon, showing no fear, is something that barely creates a blip on the radar of Major League Baseball, but for prospect geeks like me, it was a sight to behold.

Before I take my leave, a couple of culinary  recommendations if you’re in Arizona for Spring Training. One is the Old Town Tortilla Factory in old town Scottsdale. Good eats, great atmosphere. And then there’s the Stockyard Restaurant in Phoenix, not far from the airport. It’s easy to miss because of construction on the street, but it’s worth the stop.

Friday is Phoenix — don’t forget to tune into Around the Minors from Phoenix Municipal Stadium at 2 p.m. ET.

Surprise!

A couple of years ago, when the Surprise complex opened for the Royals and Rangers, you basically would drive down Bell Road after getting off the 101 and see a whole lot of nothing.

I hadn’t been out to Surprise since 2004, so I imagined there’d be a little development. A little doesn’t quite describe it — little mini-strip malls and housing developments have popped up as far as the eye can see (some may argue that that still amounts to a whole lot of nothing). Now, at least, there’s more than the one Starbucks along the drag to get the jolt of caffeine you need when you want to get to the camp by 8 a.m. to get things done before  workouts start.

Today’s visit was to the Royals side and it’s a much different looking clubhouse than it was just a year ago. Several more veterans are in the house, but obviously I wasn’t concerned with that. Instead, I had a nice chat with first-rounder Alex Gordon, enjoying his first Spring Training and yet to play a regular season game as a professional. I talked with Aussie Justin Huber, who’s really ready for a job (little advanced warning: we’ll be doing a Free the Prospect series on MiLB.com) but instead is embracing the extra development time at first base and learning all he can from Gold Glover Doug Mientkiewicz. If Huber is in Triple-A at midseason, you know he’s going to the Futures Game again, at which point it will officially be renamed the Huber All-Star Futures Game. Finally, I tracked down, and pitching prospect Luis Cota (the Royals think he’s for real, but in a system which is much more offense-heavy in terms of the talent pool, we’ll have to wait and see if he’s being placed on a pedestal for lack of a better option).

Another culinary tidbit. There’s a new food booth at Surprise, and it’s worth noting because in prior visits to the complex, the best option probably was the fried twinkie (comes with free EKG). Now, there’ll be a stand run by Appetitite’s Catering. Good, official Kansas City BBQ. The retirees of Surprise won’t know what hit them, but they won’t be able to resist the smell coming from the smokers, where pulled pork and smoked turkey will be all the rage. With games underway, be sure to check that out. The owner was going to open for the Cactus League schedule tomorrow, so I’ll have to make it back out there when I come back to Arizona at the end of the month.

Tomorrow, a trip to Tempe for a visit with Howie and B-Wood…

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