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June 12, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Arizona Diamondbacks, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies

by Baseball Prospectus

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Draft Recap: Maybe Joe Garagiola Jr. does read BP after all. Of the Diamondbacks' first 30 picks in last week's amateur draft, 27 were collegians. They didn't take a high school pitcher until the 33rd round. And their first three picks were college hitters, including some names that were mentioned in association with analytically-inclined clubs like the A's, Jays, and Red Sox.

    Here, we'll save you the Googling. These are the season-to-date statistics for those top three picks:

    Conor Jackson (3B, California): .388/.538/.675. 49 BB, 22 K in 223 PA
    Carlos Quentin (OF, Stanford): .398/.491/631. 34 BB, 22 K in 287 PA
    Jamie D'Antona (3B, Wake Forest). .360/.450/.752. 38 BB, 34 K in 262 PA

    Nice. Now, if you wanted to be really cynical about it, you could argue that Arizona's focus on college players is indicative of their too-short time horizon: These guys will reach the majors--or make attractive trade bait--sooner rather than later. But even that line of reasoning can't account for the fact that the Diamondbacks are drafting the right kind of college hitters--polished bats from good conferences with plenty of power and plate discipline. Garagiola won't be mistaken for a card-carrying member of SABR, but a consistent, well-reasoned draft strategy like this one suggests that the Diamondbacks have done their homework.

  • The Secret of My Suck-Sess: Come to think of it, maybe Arizona should get Jackson and Quentin in the lineup right now. The Diamondback offense has looked a little bit better of late, taking advantage of some weak pitching in interleague play. Even so, most all of the damage has been done at just three positions: Luis Gonzalez in left, Steve Finley in center, and the unexpectedly good catcher tandem. Here's how Arizona's MLVr compares against league average at each position.
    
    P	Player			ARI	NL
    C	Moeller / Barajas	+.202	+.009
    1B	Overbay / Grace		-.045	+.069
    2B	Spivey			-.014	+.030
    3B	Williams / Hillenbrand	-.016	-.005
    SS	Womack / Cintron 	-.088	-.026
    LF	Gonzalez		+.260	+.184
    CF      Finley			+.155	+.071
    RF      Bautista / Dellucci	-.093	+.115
    
    

    The Diamondbacks' offensive performance has been as flaky as a Lyndon LaRouche voter, ranking well above average at three positions and well below at four others. That isn't entirely a bad thing, though, since it means that the D-Backs stand to make great strides by improving at just a couple of positions. For differing reasons, shortstop and first base are probably lost causes, but picking up a quality right fielder could go a long way toward reviving this team's pennant hopes. Though the Diamondbacks' history suggests that they're more likely to go for some overpaid vet like Bobby Higginson, there are younger players trapped within their present organizations that could be better fits, like Dustan Mohr or Jason Lane.

  • Happy Trails: Matt Williams, who was released ingloriously last week, became a free agent on Wednesday and is rumored to be on the verge of signing with the Rockies. The Cubs have also expressed interest. Neither one is really an optimal fit: the Rox are getting an adequate performance out of Chris Stynes and just got Juan Uribe back, while the Cubs have a plenty adequate in-house solution in place, if only they'd give a break to Mark Bellhorn.

    What teams could benefit from hiring an average-to-slightly-below third baseman? An ideal fit would keep Williams in the western part of the country, give him a chance to contribute to a pennant contender, and not block the development of a talented younger player. Jeff Cirillo, come on down.

    This assumes Williams won't retire, of course. And the latest buzz has him seriously considering hanging 'em up.

Kansas City Royals

  • A Different Kind of Draft: In 2001, the Royals started their draft by calling the name of Colt Griffin, the wonderboy high school pitcher who could hit triple digits but couldn't hit the side of a barn, followed by Roscoe Crosby, the wonderboy high school hitter who could hit low-quality South Carolina pitching but preferred hitting the gridiron as a wide receiver at Clemson.

    Those two picks set the tone for a draft in which the Royals selected high school players with eight of their first nine picks, and 14 of their first 19. Those two picks also set a tone for what appears, two years later, to be one of the worst drafts of all time. Griffin is still in low-A ball; Crosby has, ahem, taken a sabbatical; and only one other player from that draft--Danny Tamayo, a college pitcher--has maintained even borderline prospect status.

    So in 2003, the Royals decided to try something different. After selecting Chris Lubanski, a high school outfielder, with their first pick, they started picking college players. A lot of them. Nineteen of their next 22 picks, to be exact.

    The Royals didn't select a high school pitcher until the 10th round. Two years ago, they had selected five by that point.

    That's an impressive change of heart for a team that changed neither its GM nor its scouting director in those two years. After selecting more high school players as a percentage of their draft picks than any other team in the American League over the past decade, the Royals suddenly went after college players with a passion exceeded only by the Oakland/Toronto/Boston triumvirate, as well as the Diamondbacks. It remains to be seen whether the Royals selected the right college players, but at least they have tried.

  • Trade Winds, They Are A-Blowin': Between now and July 31st, the biggest question facing the Royals isn't whether they can continue to hang within striking distance of the Twins, or whether they can keep their starting rotation together. It's whether or not they trade Carlos Beltran.

    After missing the season's first three weeks with a pulled oblique muscle, and starting the season 3-for-26, Beltran has quietly been having the best season of his career. He has raised his average to .292, leads the team with 11 homers, and is drawing a walk per seven plate appearances. Oh, and he's 12-for-13 in stolen base attempts, befitting the player with the highest stolen base percentage (87.7%) in major league history.

    With the Royals trailing the Twins by just 3.5 games, they're still not in any position to trade Beltran under the guise of rebuilding, not unless the Glass family wants to provoke a fan reaction rivaling the uproar in Chicago following the "White Flag" trade of five years ago. But if and when he is forced to make a move, Allard Baird would do well to remember that Beltran is not only a better player than Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye were when he shipped them out of town. At barely 26 years old, Beltran's younger, too.

  • Prospect of the Year Watch: Ordinarily, it isn't news when a pitcher in A-ball loses a game...unless that pitcher is Zack Greinke, who Tuesday night suffered the first loss of his pro career. Greinke, the Royals' #1 pick out of a Florida high school last season, allowed two runs in six innings, raising his ERA to an unsightly 1.32. Even so, he has allowed just 51 hits and 12 walks (against 69 strikeouts) in 75 innings this year, and has ranked among the hottest pitchers in the minor leagues all season.

    Still just 19, he's expected to be promoted to Wichita in the next week. The Royals are desperately trying to keep his hype quotient at a measurable level; a month from now, if he has overmatched Double-A hitters even remotely as much as he has the Carolina League, he can be officially knighted for phenomhood.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Not Dead Yet: There has been an increasing number of stories in both the Philadelphia and the national media about how time is running out for the Phillies and they are facing the possibility of a lost season. These stories have focused on the fact that the team is in danger of falling to more 10 games behind the Atlanta Braves. While it is true that the odds of the team winning the division are looking fairly slim right now, that does not mean that their playoff hopes are equally fragile. Through Wednesday's games they trailed the Montreal Expos by only five games out in the wild card race, a race that doesn't appear to have any strong candidates to break away from the pack. As should be clear from last season's Wild Card- and World Series-winning Anaheim Angels, it doesn't matter how a team makes it into the playoffs, as long as they make it and are playing good baseball at the end of the year.

    The question for the Phillies then becomes one of whether they can turn things around and live up to the expectations that were set for them--there's little reason to think they can't. Their pitchers have done quite well (third in the NL with a 3.64 ERA) without necessarily pitching over their heads. The offense has been the group that's fallen short of expectations, with Pat Burrell and David Bell off to terrible starts, Bobby Abreu and Jim Thome somewhat below what was predicted, and only Mike Lieberthal outperforming expectations. The Phillies are also underperforming their Pythagorean projection by more than any team in the majors (expected W-L 38-27, actual W-L 34-31).

    Ed Wade needs to avoid panic at this point, make small moves to improve areas of weakness, and stick with the core of players he assembled. If he must do some tinkering, here are a couple suggestions:

    Carlos Silva got by with a ridiculously low strikeout rate last year but has been dreadful this year. Since he still has options left, it would make sense to send him to the minors to see if he can turn his season around. Despite being yo-yoed up and down the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike all season long, Eric Junge has done solid work this season and would be a cheap improvement in the bullpen.

    The Phils also need to find some "injury" that usually only affects Rule 5 draft picks and have Bell fall prey to it, so they have an excuse to get Chase Utley (currently sporting a .279 major league EqA for Scranton) into the everyday lineup.

  • In the Minors: Last year's top draft pick Cole Hamels only started his professional career about a month ago, but already he is generating considerable excitement. It's not hard to see why, given that in just under 33 innings he has given up only three runs and 17 hits while striking out 54. Of course we should also keep in mind BP's unofficial slogan: "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect." Hamels has only appeared in six games thus far, all of them in the (increasingly misnamed) South Atlantic League. We have yet to see how he'll respond when teams start to get scouting reports on him and make adjustments. Hamels still has several levels to climb in the system, and as a pitching prospect will remain a high injury risk every step of the way. Right now it's only the fans of the Lakewood BlueClaws who should be excited by what Hamels is doing. Everyone else should regard him as an interesting player to keep an eye on, but no more.

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