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March 22, 2006

Future Shock

Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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Today, let's catch up on a few recent developments from around the world of baseball:

  • Indians third baseman Andy Marte is still hanging around at big league camp in Winter Haven, and he's left a strong impression with both scouts and team officials. With Aaron Boone also having a torrid spring, Marte will begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo, but Boone's hold on the job could be a tenuous one. "Man, that's a great swing... I think he's a 25-plus home run guy easy, and I think he could do it right away," said an American League executive who recently saw Marte in action. "I understand Boston had a desperate need for a center fielder, but that is one hell of a guy to give up."

  • Thought to go as high as No. 3 in last year's draft, observers in Arizona are unanimous in thinking that Colorado got a steal in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who fell to the Rockies at No. 7. Though he went just 2-for-11 in big league camp, Tulowitzki made several outstanding defensive plays and left the team feeling he could arrive in the big leagues sooner than initially expected. Constantly compared to Athletics shortstop Bobby Crosby (both are big, physical shortstops who starred at Long Beach State), one American League scout thinks the comparison is more than one of convenience. "When you hear guys get comped [compared to other players], it's usually pretty shaky for me," said the scout. "But physically and tools-wise, he's the spitting image of Crosby. You put that kind of player in Coors Field, and you're talking 30-35 home runs." Tulowitzki will begin the year at Double-A Tulsa, where he will be paired with third baseman Ian Stewart in what may be the best left side of the infield in the minor leagues. Stewart has been the talk of of the Rockies camp, going 15-for-35 (.429) with four doubles and five home runs.

  • 2006 No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton was every bit as good as advertised during his brief stay in big league camp, going 7-for-14 with three doubles and a triple, and impressing the team with the way he conducts himself off the field as well as on. "He's just a special guy," said one team official. "Beyond the tools and the athletic ability, he's a big leaguer--he's got the attitude, he knows how to conduct himself--it's hard to find a guy who 'gets it' at his age." An American League scout walked away just as impressed. "He's just been knocking people out," said the scout. Like older brother B.J. however, questions about defense do exist. "He's a little stiff for me with the glove," added the scout. "But that bat is going to play anywhere." Justin will begin the year at Low Class A South Bend in the Midwest League, and the Diamondbacks insist that they while they will not rush him, Upton's own success could dictate an accelerated timetable.

  • With Luis Ayala sidelined for the season, 2004 first-round pick Bill Bray is making a run for an Opening Day bullpen job in Washington. Bray, who has 55 strikeouts in 47 career minor league innings, has a 9.00 ERA this spring but has been lights-out in three of his five appearances. Armed with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a plus slider, Bray has considerable upside and could be Chad Cordero's primary set-up man by the end of the year.

  • Despite dealing with back spasms of late, Josh Willingham enters the stretch run in the lead for the Marlins catching job, going 9-for-18 at the plate with four extra-base hits, four walks and zero strikeouts, while earning manager Joe Girardi's seal of approval for his defensive work. One scout who recently saw the team did not agree with the evaluation of Willingham's work behind the plate. "He's just not good back there," said the scout. "With no obvious candidate to play left field, I don't know why they just don't put him out there and let him rake, and let Miguel Olivo catch." Also in Marlins camp, Hanley Ramirez seems to have locked up the starting shortstop job over Robert Andino with a monster spring, batting .381/.409/.690 in 42 ABs and playing stellar defense. "He finally looks like the player that the hype-machine made him out to be," said one team official. The biggest surprise for the Marlins this spring has been Reggie Abercrombie, an annual disappointment for the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in the past, despite pure athleticism that ranks with anyone in the game. In 38 at-bats, Abercrombie has hit .421 with a .711 slugging percentage, but the problems (to put it lightly) remain in the plate discipline department with 11 strikeouts and just 1 walk. Nonetheless, he's been put right in the mix for the center field job, as neither Eric Reed or Chris Aguila have been able to establish themselves, and talks with the Devil Rays concerning a trade for Joey Gathright have gone backwards.

  • With the draft still three months away, things remain far more unresolved than last year. One American League scouting director who picks towards the middle of the first round says that the wide-open status of the draft has created logistical problems. Last year, those guys that went in the first five-to-eight picks started the year at the top and stayed at the top, and we had a much smaller group of players to focus in on," he said. "This year, people have no clear idea of who's even going No. 2, and we're forced to spread ourselves much thinner and we are seeing many, many more guys in the mix for our first pick." The scouting director also disparaged the lack of quality positional talent at the college level. "Nearly everyone has some sort of ding against them," he said. "There was only a handful of guys to begin the year who we hoped would step forward--and they haven't," he added. "The market is just very sketchy right now."

  • A National League scouting executive echoed the sentiments about a lack of college positional talent, adding that the non-pitching talent at the high school level is just as disappointing. "You could ask 30 teams who the top 10 high school guys are and you'd get 30 different answers," said the exec. "There's some depth there, and a lot of players who I'd love to add to the organization at the second-to-fifth round level," he added. "But first round? I just don't see that many other than [Florida prep third baseman] Chris Marrero."

  • Georgia Tech third baseman Wes Hodges had an impressive weekend against North Carolina State, going 7-for-14 with three doubles and a pair of home runs, raising his season averages to .398/.490/.627 in the process--numbers that surprised one American League scout. "He's hitting .400? Maybe I'm just not catching him on the right days," said the scout about the expected mid-to-late first round pick. "He really plays at one speed, which can work against him," added the scout. "If he has a good weekend, you say he's calm, cool and collected. If he has a bad weekend, you say he's a dead-ass."

  • While just one weekend can do very little to effect a player's draft status, it was nonetheless a rough one for some of the top college pitchers. Both Nebraska righthander Joba Chamberlain and Missouri righthander Max Scherzer, a pair of potential top 10 picks, missed their starts with minor injuries, while North Carolina's duo of lefty Andrew Miller and righthander Daniel Bard, both in the mix for the No. 1 pick by Kansas City, got hit hard by a bad Maryland squad. While he also missed the weekend (due to final exams), Stanford righthander Greg Reynolds has improved his draft stock with an impressive start of the season, and is firmly in the mix for many teams picking in the middle of the first round. With a 3.11 ERA in 37.2 innings and a 35-to-8 strikeout to walk ratio, the six-foot-seven Reynolds is good now, and offers plenty of projection. "He's thrown well," said one scouting director. "He's been good and he's been good for a bigtime program . . . he's an easy first-rounder to me."

  • While it's not a team filled with future pros, my new favorite college baseball team is Prairie View A&M. With an 8-1 record in the Western Division of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and a 19-8 record overall, the Panthers have hit like a team of Rickey Hendersons this year. In 27 games, the team has scored 253 runs (9.4 per game) with a composite average of .312/.448/.441. In 817 at-bats, the team has drawn 158 walks and stolen 147 bases (5.4 per game) at a blistering 87% success rate. Their cleanup hitter, shortstop Michael Richard, is batting .411/.541/.547 with 32 runs and 28 stolen bases. The Panthers travel to Louisiana this weekend for a battle with perennial SWAC powerhouse Southern this weekend, but return home the weekend of the 31st for a matchup with Texas Southern. I realize they're kind of in the middle of nowhere, but they're less than an hour away from Houston, and averaging less than 100 fans per game. So if you are in the Houston area at the end of the month, it might be worth the drive to go check out what is certainly one of the most entertaining brands of baseball around.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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