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January 31, 2003

Prospectus Feature

Top 40 Prospects Roundtable

by Baseball Prospectus

Part One

Rany Jazayerli: OK. Some responses...

  1. I have no particular attachment to Michael Restovich. He goes.
  2. I must confess to being surprised for the support of Casey Kotchman, but not because he's not deserving. I just figured this was the sort of crowd that would wait to get excited about a kid who just spent the year in the Midwest League (and was out half the year at that). I planned to put Kotchman on the list anyway, but balked at the end because there were already six first basemen on the list. I have no problem with adding him to the list. Frankly, in terms of their profile Kotchman and Adrian Gonzalez are as similar as two prospects can be.
  3. Brad Hawpe can mash, to the point where I don't think it matters that much that the Rockies don't have a position for him. On the other hand, he turns 24 in June and hasn't reached Double-A yet. I could be persuaded to demote him to HM (especially if listed in combination with Jack Cust, who is still rookie-eligible).
  4. I reluctantly left Cliff Lee off the list, in part because his stat line gives me bad vibes - top prospects really shouldn't give up 20 HRs in 146 innings in the minors. That said, the rest of his performance is excellent, he has the stuff to back up the numbers, and I just realized that Dontrelle Willis is the only southpaw in the Top 40. We'll try to make room for him.
  5. I'm well aware that Baldelli didn't draw a single walk in 23 Triple-A games, yada yada yada. But he just turned 21 this September, and age is such a huge factor for hitters that he has to get bonus points for that. I'm comfortable knocking him down a few spots.
  6. I can see the case for James Loney, but in general I'm reluctant to put any high schooler on the list after just two months of pro experience. Yes, Prince Fielder is on HM, but he's a more high-risk, high-reward guy with enough power that he could bang 40 homers in a minor league season and make everyone take notice. Plus, Prince is a lot more interesting to write about, and on the HM list, that is relevant.
  7. If the itinerant Ranger expert says to knock off Ryan Ludwick, I'm not going to argue.
  8. Can someone feed me more information on Jimmy Journell? He's worth considering, but I'm trying to limit the pitchers on the list as much as possible. We had 14 last year, and that was too many.

    Joey Thurston gets compared an awful lot to Mark Grudzielanek for a guy that just posted a .257 EqA at age 22. Grudz didn't reach that plateau until he was 26, and has exceeded a .257 EqA just twice in his career. I know Thurston's game is batting average (and will play in a park that kills it), but he's young and has a job waiting for him. This counts for something. Depending on how the rest of the list changes, he may get booted.

  9. Why does everyone hate Bobby Jenks? I know his raw numbers don't match up to other starters, but that's almost entirely a function of his control. He's Nick Neugebauer, v2.0, and like Neugebauer, his upside is such that if he doesn't make the list, I'll lie awake at night worrying that he'll put it all together and make us look like idiots. We'll make him the token No. 40 guy if you want (hey, it worked for Brian Lawrence), but I really want Jenks on the list.
  10. Is everyone really that high on Shin-Soo Choo? His numbers are excellent for a 20-year-old, but again, there's the four-levels-from-the-majors factor to worry about.
  11. John Patterson is a tough, tough call. I like him a lot, actually, and did consider him for the list. Coming back from TJ surgery, he's got potential to rebound more, but he's also a proven injury waiting to happen. I think he's worthy of HM, at least. Thoughts?
  12. Maybe Contreras doesn't deserve the No. 3 ranking...but basing that on the history of Cuban refugees is disingenuous. The only Cuban pitcher who had anything close to Contreras' reputation was El Duque, and he was pretty damn good for a few years. Personally, I'd be a lot less comfortable putting Reyes - who might be Antonio Perez II, for all we know, complete with the doctored birth certificate - or Phillips, who has positional questions, at No. 3 instead of Contreras.
  13. Matsui is clearly the best hitter on the list based on present performance, and probably on future potential as well. But while I have no problems with putting established foreign talent on the list, I really would prefer to reserve the No. 1 spot for a traditional prospect if possible. In the long run, whether Matsui is No. 1 or No. 2 will mean little when someone evaluates the list in five years. But in the present, I think it's important, when someone asks who the BP No. 1 prospect is, to get an answer that actually jibes with their notion of a "prospect." If Mark Teixeira wasn't eligible, that would be tougher to justify, but thankfully he is. And in the long run, I'd take my chances on Teixeira anyway.
  14. I'm middle-of-the-road with respect to Drew Henson. I don't think he's got star potential anymore, but at the same time I think that people who rail about how horrible a player is tend to ignore the fact that he held his own in Triple-A at age 22. The problem, as Clay pointed out, is that he hasn't improved one whit from age 19 to age 22, which is a very weird phenomenon. I'd love to put him on HM, if only because I think that would make him an HM selection every year we've put out a list, but realistically I think he falls a little short of that designation.

Jonah Keri: First of all, Patterson suffered from an elbow injury, not shoulder injury. Big, huge, massive, enormous difference. When really smart people who know what they're talking about keep saying over and over that a torn labrum is a death sentence (have fun drafting Jon Rauch in roto, Keith S.), TJ is eminently manageable if done correctly. I don't think the injury risk is that enormous, and the guy's a great pitcher who'll be the ace of that staff when the Twin Towers move to Florida to wear funny pants. Since we're voting for a People's Choice at No. 40, I'll take Patterson.

Also, didn't get your thoughts on two guys mentioned by the group:

  1. Hanley Ramirez, who's got lots of potential but still seems too high; and...
  2. K-Rod. I know you love him, and obviously you'll take the comments by myself and Chris with a grain of anti-reliever bias salt, but really, if you're going to be biased against any subgroup on a prospects list, relief pitchers seems like a nifty place to start. If it's my list, I don't know if I even put him in the top 40, to be honest. Since it's not my list, I vote for somewhere out of the top 20 at least.

Regarding Harrisburg's HR totals--in addition to Michael Barrett, Andy Tracy looked like Jim Thome one year there. I wouldn't ignore the HR issues, but I'd downplay it a bit.

And if you don't want to drop Jenks, I'd take David Wright over Jayson Werth in the Top 40, even though Werth's obviously a lot closer to the bigs.

Gary Huckabay: Regarding Jenks: control matters. Throw four balls, and the batter goes to first base. And just to clarify--you're stating that being Nike Neugebauer v2.0 is a reason for inclusion on a Top 40 list?

I don't think Patterson's a tough call at all. I think he's clearly deserving of a high spot.

And with regard to Badelli, I've put an 'X' next to every single player I'd trade him for, without thinking twice:

Brendan Harris, 3B, Chicago (NL)
X Joe Borchard, CF, Chicago (AL)
X Jason Arnold, SP, Toronto
Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Florida
X Casey Kotchman, 1B, Anaheim

X Cliff Lee, SP, Cleveland
X Khalil Greene, SS, San Diego
Clint Nageotte, SP, Seattle
Juan Rivera, LF, New York (AL)
Jayson Werth, OF, Toronto

Bobby Jenks, SP, Anaheim
Joey Thurston, 2B, Los Angeles
X Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota
Dontrelle Willis, SP, Florida
The People's Choice (David Wright, anyone?)

And that doesn't include the honorable mentions. Outfielders who don't walk and don't even display massive power to go with "toolsiness" just don't do it for me. I don't even really understand why Baldelli is involved in this discussion.

Clay Davenport: If you were willing to go with Hanley Ramirez among hitters, you could probably consider Scott Kazmir for another lefty slot. Granted, he barely pitched after signing, but he totally rocked when he did. You might throw an HM to a couple of lefties (Bedard and Claussen) who would have been here without injury too.

That said, I disagree with you, Rany, on Jenks. Even when he had translated walk rates in the 10s, Neugebauer's translated K rates were in the 8s. Jenks has never cracked 7 outside the AFL. Neugebauer's hit rates were in the 6s and 7s; Jenks' are 8s and 10s. Despite his 100-mph juice, Jenks has been hittable, and that's not a good sign.

Other HMs worth mentioning:

Chris Kahrl: Hawpe's a case of opportunity versus talent. I'd drop him to Honorable Mention, and on the same level, go with the flow to promote Patterson into the 35-40 range.

As long as we're bashing the Rangers on a similar theme, it's worth asking: have the Devil Rays been involved with the success of any young player? Does anyone honestly believe that Lou Piniella will help change this? I wouldn't drop Baldelli from the list entirely, but hitting in the California League is his main calling card, and that's not an especially remarkable achievement.

I like Journell a lot more than Jenks, and I'm more than a little ambivalent about listing Journell.

Ariel Prieto, in particular, came here with a very big rep and a mysterious age, and as the pedant's pedant who only seeks to strike an appropriately cautionary note, I'll pedantically repeat my point: Beyond El Duque, no Cuban pitcher has lived up to his advance billing, and all of them have been touted, unfairly or not. That said, I think we need to stick with the precedent that I believe Rany originally fought for so well on behalf of Ichiro; both Godzilla and Contreras belong on this list.

If anything, I find inventing age issues for Reyes for argument's sake to be disingenuous, only slightly more so than blaming the victim for Vizquel's contract extension in Phillips' case.

Is nobody going to the mat for Youkilis because of Rexrode? I'm just curious, because nobody's making a case for him creeping into the No. 40 slot, which we usually stock with somebody we like and want to make a point with.

If we're looking for a spare lefty starter for the bottom of the list, we could do worse than Billy Traber. Among other Tribe hurlers, Jason Davis and Brian Tallet probably deserve honorable mentions ahead of some of the A-ball pitchers mentioned here. And Bruback.

RJ: Responding to more comments:

  1. I see both sides of the Matsui/Contreras argument, but in the end I think we should leave them in. Aside from the precedent that has been set with Ichiro, I think we have to acknowledge the fact that our Top 40 lists are a permanent part of the public record, to be re-read and analyzed by our readers and our detractors in the future. Baseball America won't be placing them in a separate list. John Sickels won't. Three years from now, I'd hate for someone to do a sloppy job of analyzing our lists, and say, "wow, those guys at BP didn't even include Jose Contreras in their Top 40, and he's won a pair of Cy Youngs!" I do consider the list a challenge and a competition, and I want it to reflect the 40 best rookie-eligible players in the world. That includes Matsui and Contreras.
  2. I like John Patterson, I think he'll continue to make progress after TJ surgery, and after much consideration, I think he's Top 40 worthy.
  3. I must admit: Dontrelle Willis resembles a lot of the Top 40 selections from years past that, in hindsight, make me cringe. He's a pitcher who has yet to make it out of A-ball, and unless you're Rick Ankiel or Josh Beckett, there are better ways to make use of that slot. We'll pull him to make room for Patterson.
  4. My feelings on K-Rod are that he has a substantial amount of experience as a starting pitcher, and even if he's used in relief it won't be in a 60-70-inning role, which justifies his ranking. I'm comfortable moving him behind Harden and Foppert.
  5. I'll move Hanley Ramirez down a few spots.
  6. I'll move Rocco Baldelli down more than a few spots.
  7. Aaron Cook struck out 90 men in 159 IP last year. Even if he wasn't a Rockie, he doesn't make my Top 100, let alone Top 40.
  8. Is everyone comfortable with a first-year high school draftee making the list? If so, I'm comfortable using the People's Choice spot on James Loney.
  9. I ordinarily like using fiat instead of force when it comes to deciding on this list, but I'm stubborn on Jenks. I fully realize the risk involved with him, and I've moved him down to No. 40 on the list as a sign that he makes the list as much to generate controversy as anything else. But I also feel he deserves the spot on merit. If nothing else, he makes for a very intriguing comment.

Michael Wolverton: I have a last question about Jerome Williams's placement, although it may be too late to make a difference on the list. I assume that Williams' main selling point--pretty much his only selling point--is his age. Presumably a pitcher who struck out seven batters per 9 innings in Triple-A without exceptional control would be marginal to even get an honorable mention if he were a year or two older (say, Foppert's age).

Is the difference between 20 and 22 a big deal with pitchers? For whoever has minor league data: Who are the last few pitchers to hold their own (not dominate) in Triple-A at age 20, and what happened to them? I don't know the answer to this, but my intuition is that those two years make less of a difference to pitchers than they do to hitters. If nothing else, the increased injury risk might offset whatever developmental advances we could expect. And Williams did throw a lot of innings this year, and finished it with elbow soreness.

Keith Woolner: Here are all the 20-year old pitchers with 100+ IP in a season for a single team at Triple-A that I have from Clay's database:

NAME            AGE  YEAR TEA LG      IP    H   HR   BB   SO    RA
--------------- --- ----- --- --- ------ ---- ---- ---- ---- -----
MARTINEZ,PEDRO   20  1992 ABQ PCL  125.3  104   10   57  124  4.09
GORECKI,RICK     20  1994 ABQ PCL  103.0  119   11   60   73  5.68
PETT,JOSE        20  1996 SYR INT  109.7  134   10   42   50  6.65
HALLADAY,ROY     20  1997 SYR INT  125.7  132   13   53   64  5.30
QUEVEDO,RUBEN    20  1999 RIC INT  105.7  112   26   34   98  5.53
ANDERSON,RYAN    20  2000 TAC PCL  104.0   83    8   55  146  4.41
GARLAND,JON      20  2000 CHR INT  103.7   99    3   32   63  2.43
ZAMBRANO,CARLOS  20  2001 IOW PCL  150.7  124    9   68  155  4.36
WILLIAMS,JEROME  20  2002 FRE PCL  160.7  140   16   50  130  4.26

Mat Olkin: Interesting list. Throw out the two birthday frauds, and you have two aces, a No. 3 starter, and three career-ending injuries (plus Williams).

RJ: I do want to critique my own list a bit, now that I've written most of the player comments and have a little more information about the players. Here's a list of the tweaks that have been made since the last draft, and the rationale behind them: 

  1. James Loney fractured his wrist at the end of the season, and while he's expected to recover, wrist injuries linger. Given my original reservations with a first-year high schooler, let's move him to HM but no higher. 
  2. Wilson Betemit had a lost year, but he just turned 21. I still can't believe that he really was underage when the Braves signed him - according to his new birth date, he was 14 1/2 (!) when he signed, and played in the GCL at 15 - but I don't think the Braves would have been penalized if there wasn't good reason to believe that he was underage. Not many 20-year-olds can hit .245 in Triple-A and have it called a disappointment. Let's move him into the Top 40, and we'll move him move up eight more spots, given that what looked like an awful season was more like an awful three months: He battled some injuries in the first half, and after hitting .198 during that time, hit .292 during the second half of the season. 
  3. I'm flip-flopping Brandon Phillips and Victor Martinez, on the basis of Phillips having to make a positional switch and Martinez's superior plate discipline. 
  4. K-Rod drops a few spots, although those of you who think that Franklyn German is comparable need to remember one thing: 41 Ks in 24.1 major league innings, most of those against playoff teams. That's the highest single-season K/IP ratio in history for anyone with more than 10 IP. I moved K-Rod down though, and got him out of the Top 20. 
  5. Justin Huber gets knocked down a bunch. He's only 20, but he spent most of the year in low-A ball, he didn't hit that well, his defense needs work, and I think I've overrated him because of his Australian heritage. 
  6. Hanley Ramirez drops a lot as well. Gotta be careful with those low-minors guys.
  7. John Patterson moves up a lot, into the Top 30. I have to admit I have a real strong feeling about this guy.
  8. Justin Morneau moves up some. I wasn't aware that he lost 20 pounds from that nasty "bacterial virus" of his, and yet he still hit 16 homers as a 20-year-old in Double-A.
  9. After re-thinking the issue, Contreras' complete lack of statistical evidence that we can appreciate--and the track record of Cuban refugees--makes me knock him down a peg. He moves down two spots to No. 5. He's still the highest-rated pitcher on the list.
  10. When I got to the Brendan Harris write-up and looked at his numbers carefully, a strange sensation came over me. (Go ahead, Derek--make an Aussie crack; it's good to get it out of your system.) I checked the numbers, and lo and behold...well, look it up yourself:

    Brendan Harris, 2002 = Albert Pujols, 2000

    There are some differences--notably that Harris was a classification higher than Pujols--but the raw numbers are eerily similar. Harris is the biggest sleeper prospect in the game, and I was compelled to move him into our Top 20. 

  11. I axed Dontrelle Willis from the list completely, allowing me to reinstate Bozied, Nady, and Gautreau to the HM list (after briefly bumping them out in favor of Todd Linden).

And that's it--official and fit-for framing:

Baseball Prospectus 2003 - Top 40 Prospects List: 

  1. Mark Teixeira, 3B, Texas
  2. Hideki Matsui, RF, New York (AL)
  3. Jose Reyes, SS, New York (NL)
  4. Victor Martinez, C, Cleveland
  5. Jose Contreras, SP, New York (AL)
  6. Brandon Phillips, 2B/SS, Cleveland
  7. Hee Seop Choi, 1B, Chicago (NL)
  8. Jerome Williams, SP, San Francisco
  9. Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota
  10. Chris Snelling, OF, Seattle
  11. Jason Stokes, 1B, Florida
  12. Rich Harden, SP, Oakland
  13. Jesse Foppert, SP, San Francisco
  14. Marlon Byrd, CF, Philadelphia
  15. Michael Cuddyer, RF, Minnesota
  16. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Seattle
  17. Aaron Heilman, SP, New York (NL)
  18. Brendan Harris, 3B, Chicago (NL)
  19. Kurt Ainsworth, SP, San Francisco
  20. Travis Hafner, 1B, Cleveland
  21. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Anaheim
  22. Joe Borchard, CF, Chicago (AL)
  23. Scott Hairston, 2B, Arizona
  24. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Florida
  25. Jason Arnold, SP, Toronto
  26. John Patterson, SP, Arizona
  27. Casey Kotchman, 1B, Anaheim
  28. Rocco Baldelli, OF, Tampa Bay
  29. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Florida
  30. Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota
  31. Wilson Betemit, SS, Atlanta
  32. Cliff Lee, SP, Cleveland
  33. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Boston
  34. Justin Huber, C, New York (NL)
  35. Clint Nageotte, SP, Seattle
  36. Juan Rivera, LF, New York (AL)
  37. Khalil Greene, SS, San Diego
  38. Jayson Werth, OF, Toronto
  39. Joey Thurston, 2B, Los Angeles
  40. Bobby Jenks, SP, Anaheim

Honorable Mentions

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