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July 2, 2004

Can Of Corn

Minor League All-Star Mailbag

by Dayn Perry

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Lots of e-mails regarding the recent series on my minor league All-Star teams (Here's my Low-A Team, my High-A Team, my Double-A Team and my Triple-A Team), so let's get right to it...

Great series. I wanted to drop a quick word regarding the Triple-A All-Star team, specifically one of the two Durham Bulls that made the cut and one other Bull that I think should have received more consideration.

Jorge Cantu was the Bulls' shortstop before B.J. Upton made the scene and has since played the other side of the keystone. Cantu has also seen time at third. No matter where he has played, though, he has displayed much skill with the leather--in this humble opinion, more polish than Upton, by far, but that's really not saying much if you believe the guys that get paid to scout. Cantu is also two years older, but still, he looks pretty good for 22.

Hitting? Try .305/.327/.563 in 272 AB, with 39 extra-base hits. His strike zone control is icky (43 K and just 9 BB) but he has maintained the power throughout the season.

While Upton has no doubt impressed at 19, his numbers have slowly declined after a white-hot start, presumably as the IL has adjusted to him over the last month. The last few games I have watched, it seems Upton has gotten a steady diet of breakers which have produced some so-so nights. Granted, we're talking a handful of games. Maybe I am his nemesis in the grandstand.

Anyway, great series, again. Unless there is something in Cantu's record which makes him ineligible for your list, he deserves a look. Please enlighten me if you have the time.

--Jason Roebuck

Hey, Jason. Thanks for the feedback. You rightly point out that Cantu is having a nice season for Triple-A Durham. But I have a few problems with ranking him as an elite prospect. First, he's repeating the circuit, which means it's prudent to discount his performance somewhat. Second, as you alluded to, his plate discipline is awful (95 unintentional walks in 2,401 career plate appearances). Coming into this season, Cantu had a career OBP of .296 and a career SLG of .358. Those are just miserable numbers, even for a premium defender. To his credit, he's slugging .554 on the season, but that's plainly out of step with the rest of his career. It's certainly possible that he's experiencing skills growth in the power department, but I want to see more before I sign off on him. For the here and now, color me skeptical with regard to Cantu.

As for Upton, you're right that he's slacked off in recent weeks after a hot start, but it's also worth noting that in the month of June he drew 20 walks against 95 at-bats. If you value plate discipline as much as I do, that's encouraging even if he's backsliding in other areas.

It would be interesting to total the number of prospects from every level by team affiliation.

--J.F.

Good idea, J.F. Let's do it on a point system: two points for every All-Star spot, one point for every runner-up nod. And here's how they shake out by organization:


Team         Total Points
Rockies              10
Indians               9
Angels                8
Braves                8
Mets                  8
Brewers               5
Twins                 5
Astros                4
A's                   4
Blue Jays             4
Devil Rays            4
Diamondbacks          4
Dodgers               4
Mariners              4
Royals                4
Giants                3
Marlins               3
Rangers               3
Red Sox               3
Cardinals             2
Cubs                  2
Expos                 2
Padres                2
Pirates               2
White Sox             2
Orioles               1
Reds                  1
Yankees               1
Phillies              0
Tigers                0

For shame, Dayn, for not even mentioning that Altoona's Jeff Keppinger is the only .400+ hitter in all of Double-A--his nearest competitor (Wright) is a full 40 points BEHIND him.

Granted, we know Keppinger's not on anyone's radar as a serious future star, but isn't the point of selecting players for 'All-Star' status supposed to be to reward those having strong performances?

I realize Keppinger doesn't have a single home run, but not even acknowledging Keppinger as an 'also-ran' ignores the fact that he is accomplishing something so far ahead of any of his peers to this point, is certainly an injustice. Give our boy Kepp a little love, would ya?

--Christian Sumner

Thanks for the feedback, Christian. Yeah, I received more than a few entreaties on behalf of Keppinger. To be sure, he's having a tremendous season in what's a pretty tough park for hitters. At this writing, Keppinger boasts a line of .390/.436/.474. There's obviously a lot to like about a guy who hits .390 in the high minors.

Here's what I don't like. First, he hasn't shown much in the way of peripheral skills this season. He's drawn only 21 unintentional walks in 273 plate appearances, which shows sub-optimal plate discipline, and his Isolated Slugging Percentage is a rather paltry .084. In other words, the bulk of his value is tied up in that .390 batting average. Second, at age 24, he's not young for the Eastern League. And, third, while his .296 career average coming into this season was certainly admirable, it still suggests this year's performance is out of step with his true abilities. All that said, he's a second baseman who's batting almost .400, so he certainly bears watching.

Allow me to sound like a total homer for a second here: Where's Gavin Floyd? He's doing some nice pitching in Double-A this year. Sure, his 3-4 record is middling, but his other numbers are all right on. (OK, maybe he doesn't have quite as gaudy a K/BB ratio as some of those other guys).

Y'know, I'm gonna come clean here and admit that I didn't do any research on this topic before firing this missive off. Take pity on me; I'm a Phillies fan by birth, and I've got to endure yet another year removed from the 1980 brain trust. I just like Gavin Floyd and figured he'd be the Phils' best shot for some recognition in this series (although, come to think of it, that Ryan Howard is having an unexpectedly nice year for the Reading Phils)...

--B.H.

Thanks for writing, B.H. First, let me address Ryan Howard. I received several e-mails asking how I could leave Howard off my Double-A All-Star Team. I'll be the first to admit that his gaudy numbers this season make a compelling case. But allow me to make an attempt to defend passing him over in favor of Prince Fielder and Jason Stokes.

There's no assailing Howard's numbers this season: .313/.392/.691, 31 homers. That's just gaudy. But what takes some of the shine off, at least for me, is that Howard, at age 24, is fairly old for Double-A. I'd also like to see a bit more patience from him, but this is really picking nits when you're talking about a guy who's slugging almost .700 and within hailing distance of a .400 ISO. Old or not, he's knocking the snot out of the ball. I'll defend the Stokes selection by saying he's almost 30 months younger, and some wrist problems in the past have dampened his production. That said, yeah, you could argue I made a mistake in not putting Howard on the team.

As for Floyd, the scouts do have good things to say about him, and I'm coming around to the idea that he's one of those seemingly rare pitchers with notable hit-prevention skills on balls in play. But I just can't get past those middling command numbers. Until that devastating curve of his starts generating more strikeouts or fewer walks, I'm going to remain a Gavin Floyd agnostic. Then again, if he continues keeping runs off the board despite those underwhelming peripherals, then I'll certainly give him his due. I'm open to the possibility that people may be seeing something in terms of future performance that's slipping by me when I watch him.

Hey Dayn, Love your work. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about Chris Mabeus. Is he a hard thrower? I see his numbers down in Triple-A are pretty impressive. Do you think the A's might consider bringing him up this season and giving him a chance?

--G.A.

Thanks, G.A. Yeah, Mabeus, a right-handed reliever, has put up some silly numbers at Midland and Sacramento this season (45 strikeouts and 6 unintentional walks, sub-2.00 ERAs at both stops). He's already 25, but advanced age isn't as much of a detriment for a reliever. He does, in fact throw hard. His fastball is regularly in the mid-90s, and he also throws a slider and splitter. The A's like him, and they'll certainly give him a shot at the highest level at some point. A week ago, the A's were sorely in need of right-handed relief, but the trade for Octavio Dotel and the upward-tracking performance of Chad Bradford have quelled those worries for the time being. That means no Mabeus in Oakland for the time being. Still, he's a very promising bullpen arm in an organization that's highly meritocratic about such things.

That'll do it for this time. Have a great Fourth, and I'll be back next week.

Related Content:  Jorge Cantu,  Triple-A,  Gavin Floyd

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