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May 27, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

by Baseball Prospectus

Atlanta Braves

  • Just the Way They Drew It Up: Your copy of BP 2004 calls the trade of J.D. Drew to Atlanta this past off-season "unwise" and "uninspired" from the Cardinals' standpoint. That's perhaps a little strong given the results we've seen thus far, but the Braves have the edge in the deal right now, and it's possible that gap will widen as the season progresses.

    During the December winter meetings, the Braves sent Adam Wainwright, Ray King and Jason Marquis to St. Louis for Drew and Eli Marrero. Marrero, because of an upper respiratory infection, has logged only 22 at-bats this season, but Drew was central to the deal for GM John Schuerholz. Drew is hitting .290/.415/.573 on the season and has played in 38 of Atlanta's 44 games. He'll always have injury concerns, but his most troubling malady--a case of patellar tendonitis--has yet to exact much of a toll this year. Drew has missed time with a sore hamstring and stiff neck, but he's been healthy for the most part, and his production has been outstanding. In fact, Drew leads all Braves hitters in Value Over Replacement Player and ranks behind only Bobby Abreu among NL right fielders.

    As for what the Braves gave up, it's looking like a winning deal from that angle, as well. As detailed elsewhere, Wainwright, once the Braves' top pitching prospect, has struggled in Triple-A this season as a Cardinal farmhand. Marquis has been solid on a run-prevention level, but his K/BB ratio of 1.4 and low strikeout rate suggest his modest successes aren't built to last. King is much like Marquis, in that he's succeeding despite somewhat troubling peripherals.

  • A Trip to the John: Right-hander John Thomson, whose signing was hailed by Dayn Perry as one of the winter's most underrated moves, has been vaguely passable to date: 57.1 innings, 4.71 R/G, 41 K, 12 BB, 6 HR. The command is there, as evinced by his 3.4 K/BB ratio, and his penchant for the home run, his bÍte noir in recent seasons, is under control thus far.

    So what gives? Primarily, Thomson's high hit rate and his inability to get left-handers out (they're hitting .297/.348/.455 against him). The former problem--his elevated hit rate--is only marginally within his control. That the Braves as a team rank last in the NL in defensive efficiency implies that the fault is mostly with the gloves behind Thomson.

  • Marte Watch: How's Braves top prospect Andy Marte faring in his first taste of the high minors? Marte, who's only 20 years of age, is hitting .257/.325/.500 through 39 games for Double-A Greenville. His walk rate is down compared to 2003 (12 unintentional in 160 plate appearances), but his SLG is commendable for a player so much younger than his peer group. Also of note is his excellent Isolated SLG of .243, which points to even more power down the road. At his current clip, he'll come within hailing distance of 70 extra-base hits for the season. In other words, Marte's right on target to be the next Braves superstar.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

  • Upton Train: The D-Rays have always preferred the Cliffs Notes approach to player development, and their treatment of phenom B.J. Upton is no exception. A quick start at Double-A Montgomery earned Upton a promotion to Triple-A only 29 games into the season. He's all of 19 years old, but he's hitting like a house afire in the early going at Triple-A Durham: .375/.444/.750 in 48 at-bats. Heretofore, the knock on Upton's offensive game has been his lack of jaw-dropping power (not exactly a damning indictment for a player so young and so rushed). Until this season, Upton's career SLG was .431. In '04, however, he's slugging .559 while spending all of his time against much older competition. With Julio Lugo showing some power in the early going for Tampa, perhaps Upton will finally be afforded a modicum of patience in his developmental track. In any case, it appears that not even the light-speed track he's been on can derail his overwhelming promise.

  • Once More, with Feeling: Once again, the D-Rays will have a high pick in the upcoming June Draft. They'll select fourth, after the Padres, Tigers and Mets. Most projections have the Rays holding fast to their preference for toolsy high-schoolers by selecting prep shortstop Chris Nelson from Decatur, Georgia. However, there's a slim chance that Florida State shortstop (and brother of J.D.) Stephen Drew could fall to them. That's unlikely (the Padres are strongly considering Drew, and the Mets might take him third if San Diego doesn't), but if he's still on the board, the Rays would be wise to table their prevailing drafting philosophy and nab him.

    Drew is a polished hitter who's put up strong, strong numbers all three years at FSU. He could be legitimately placed on the fast track and be in Tampa by opening day 2006. Some scouts think he won't stick at short, but he has the chops for second and the athleticism for center. In either case, the Rays would likely wind up with another high-ceiling middle infielder on their hands.

  • We'd Be Remiss If...: We didn't point out that frequent BP whipping boy Tino Martinez is off to a .306/.403/.537 start this season and is presently tied with Jason Giambi for tops in EqA among AL first sackers. And this too shall pass...

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Farm Dispatch: If you've had the pleasure of perusing our 2004 Top 50 Prospects List, you may have noticed that the Blue Jays placed a hefty six players in the list. Here's an update on how they're faring in '04:

    Number 15: Alexis Rios, CF, Triple-A Syracuse

    Rios is off to a slow start in the International League: .260/.292/.379 in 185 plate appearances. As is case with any player at this juncture, it's early and sample-size caveats apply. But there may be reason for concern with Rios. His excellent performance last season was plainly out of step with the rest of his career. At Double-A New Haven in 2003, Rios hit .352/.402/.521. Those are excellent rate stats, but his walk rate was sub-optimal, and his Isolated Slugging (SLG minus AVG) is somewhat middling. The upshot is that much of Rios' value last year was concentrated in his AVG, which is a statistic prone to random fluctuation. He did hit .305 in 2002 while toiling in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, so it's hard to dismiss his numbers last season as being entirely aberrant, but there's a strong chance he was playing solidly over his head. This season, Rios had a better April than May; that he's trending in the wrong direction is also troubling.

    Number 17: Guillermo Quiroz, C, Triple-A Syracuse

    Quiroz, like Rios, is coming off a season that's unquestionably the finest of his career. In Double-A, Quiroz put up a line of .282/.372/.518. New Haven plays as a pitcher's park, and, at age 21, Quiroz was younger than his peer group. This season, Quiroz is playing alongside Rios in Syracuse. He hasn't played all that well, but his struggles don't match the depths of Rios'. Quiroz is presently on the DL with a broken hand and could be out another four weeks or so. His line for the season reads .258/.351/.424. The walk rate's still there, but, as you can see, the power has taken a dip. Still, his Isolated Slugging is a reasonably solid .166. Provided there are no lingering effects from the hand injury, he's still a prospect of note. After all, 66 mediocre at-bats in the International League is hardly grounds for indictment.

    Number 23: Dustin McGowan, RHP, Injured

    McGowan, by our estimation the top pitching prospect in a system that's suddenly deep in pitching prospects, suffered a torn ligament in his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-May. As far as projecting his return goes, GM J.P. Ricciardi has said McGowan won't pitch until 2006, which means they'll wisely take the conservative tack. At Double-A New Haven this season, McGowan logged a sparkling 1.21 ERA for the month of April. His overall numbers were dragged down by two disastrous starts in May, when, presumably, he was already hurt. His timetable is obviously different because of this major injury, but he'll likely return to form given a normal convalescence.

    Number 39: David Bush, RHP, Triple-A Syracuse

    Coming into this season, Bush had been a command machine: 193.2 innings, 196 strikeouts and 34 unintentional walks coming into this season. That's a K/BB ratio of 5.8, which is outstanding, particularly in tandem with such a high strikeout rate. Bush's first taste of Triple-A, however, has seemingly been a different matter. In 54 innings at Syracuse, Bush has surrendered 5.67 R/G, but he's struck out almost a batter per inning and has a strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio of 3.9, which, although down from his career levels, is still quite strong. He's still doing a solid job of keeping the ball in the park, so his high ERA at Syracuse is likely a function of luck and defense. Don't worry about Bush. He's done nothing to drop his stock despite superficial appearances to the contrary.

    Number 40: Gabe Gross, OF, Triple-A Syracuse

    Gross' prospect status has been somewhat dubious since his struggles in Double-A in 2002. He had a solid rebound season last year, but he was repeating the loop and was somewhat old for the league. This season at Syracuse, he's done little to revive hopes. His hitting .282/.352/.412 on the young season. Gross, who's 24, is showing very little raw power and has suffered declines in his walk rate. In a system brimming with talented outfielders, Gross is looking more and more like a back-end role player rather than a productive regular at the highest level.

    Number 42: Russ Adams, SS, Triple-A Syracuse

    Adams is doing what he's always done: draw walks and get on base without showing much power. His '04 line at Syracuse (.256/.351/.378) is mostly in line with the rest of his career. Since the moment his name was called in the 2002 draft, many have predicted that he'd move to second base. He's played all 44 games this year at short, and the organization appears poised to keep him there for the foreseeable future. As for that power deficit, there might be hope. If Adams' maintains his current pace, he'll have a shot at 50 doubles this season. If he concentrates on what he does best--man a critical position and get on base--he'll be a useful starter in Toronto one day.

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