February 13, 2001
From The Mailbag
Special Edition: Top 40 Prospects
Where's Aubrey Huff? Is he off the list because Tampa Bay hasn't moved Vinny Castilla yet?
No, he's off the list because we got confused.
This is as good a time as any to make a confession: in the process of compiling our Top Prospect list, we somehow got it in our heads that Huff had exhausted his rookie eligibility, so we never considered him for the list. But Huff clearly is a rookie--he only had 122 at-bats in 2000, eight short of the maximum allowed, and he didn't go over on service time either.
So please accept our apologies that Huff is not on the list. If we had realized he was eligible, he almost certainly would have ranked in our Top 10. Huff does have some negatives, notably questions about his defense and the Devil Rays' lingering fascination with Castilla (or at least the money that they owe him for the life of his contract). But Huff mustered a 960 OPS in Triple-A at the age of 23, and he has all three qualities you want in a hitter: power, average, and plate discipline. Just eyeballing it from here, I'd probably slot him between Jose Ortiz and Ichiro Suzuki in the eighth spot. If Huff wins a starting job in spring training, he's probably the second most likely candidate for Rookie of the Year honors after Suzuki, or at least tied for #2 along with Ortiz.
How can Josh Beckett not be one of the top 40 prospects in baseball?
Beckett does make our "Honorable Mention" list, and while we do not rank the players on that list, Beckett would have ranked at the top if we did. That is to say he was our #41 prospect, and it was not an easy decision to leave him off the list in favor of a less heralded pitcher, Brian Lawrence.
It wasn't easy because Beckett has ace-type stuff and pitched very well in his pro debut last year. But we're talking about a pitcher who was four levels away from the majors last season, and went on the DL twice with shoulder tendinitis, pitching only 59 innings. A teenage pitcher with a sketchy health record is not our idea of a top prospect, and for that reason we're reserving judgment on Beckett until he shows us he can stay healthy and pitch well at higher levels.
He may very well make us look stupid for leaving him off our list this season, but the silver lining is that we still have plenty of time to put him on next year's list before he reaches the majors.
Where is Milton Bradley? Bradley is a true talent combining an excellent batting eye, power, center-field range and a cannon arm. Perhaps now I realize why he's got an attitude; getting dissed in favor of Jack Cust will do that to some people.
Bradley's absence from our list has nothing to do with his ability or his attitude. Only players who have not exhausted their rookie eligibility qualified to be included on the list, and Bradley had 154 at-bats with the Expos last season, disqualifying him. Had he been eligible, he almost certainly would have been included; a year ago, he was our #22 prospect.
I was rather surprised to not see Chris Snelling among your top 40 prospects; at 18 he has two seasons in the minors under his belt, including a very good (though injury-shortened) year in full-season A-ball, and has shown himself to be a seven-skill player. He would seem to me to be a prospect on par with his fellow Mariner farmhand Antonio Perez--granted he's a year behind Perez, but he's also a year younger, and while he's a center fielder rather than a shortstop, he's also a better hitter than Perez.
I'm very fond of Snelling, having watched and spoken to him when he played for Everett in 1999. However, our leaving him off the Top 40 list was based on the fact that he has yet to play a full season (having missed a couple months this year) and was only in low-A ball last year. Only Josh Hamilton made the list as an outfielder in low-A ball and Snelling certainly doesn't have his ceiling. Also, I'm not sure he's a seven-skills guy, since he really isn't all that fast. What he does have are great instincts that enable him to steal the occasional base and more than hold his own in center field.
As far as being on par with Perez--almost, but not quite. Perez led the California League in slugging as a 19-year-old, although his age is under suspicion and he played half his games in a great hitters' park. He also has an extremely athletic build, which Snelling doesn't have. Combine his age (if accurate), talent and upside with the fact that he played a level above Snelling at a more difficult position (shortstop) and I think the rankings are justified.
Snelling did get an honorable mention.
Where's Jason Hart? Did he get sold to Japan with Joe Vitiello and I missed it? How does the Player of the Year not rate a mention in the Top 40?
While I personally happen to like Jason Hart as a prospect an awful lot, not even I was particularly determined to elevate him to the Top 40 Prospects list. I'd argue that there are three factors against his inclusion.
First, it's the Top 40 for all of baseball, which is pretty heady company. Sure, that's a pretty frothy-sounding reason, but it leads me to the second point. How good is Hart among the first base/DH slugger types? While he's good among all of his minor-league peers, there's no shame in coming to the conclusion that he isn't on the same level as Hee Seop Choi or Carlos Pena. Lastly, keep in mind that while Hart did just have his best season and did it while jumping up to Double-A, he also didn't come close to hitting as well as Adam Piatt had the year before. Again, that is not to put down Hart--Piatt had an astounding season. But Hart will still need to improve as a hitter if he's going to become a good major-league first baseman. We're reasonably confident that he will, which is why we included him in our Honorable Mention section.
How can you leave off some of the Braves' pitching prospects? Adam Wainwright? Matt McClendon? Christian Parra? Jason Marquis? Horacio Ramirez? Billy Sylvester? There is a depth and a level of quality there that you seem to have ignored.
One, the environment at Myrtle Beach is just phenomenal for pitchers, kind of like playing baseball on Neptune. That has inflated the statistics of guys like Parra, Ramirez, and, someone you don't mention who may end up the best of the bunch, Matt Belisle. Two, the challenges that even successful A-ball pitchers face--mostly staying healthy--mean that projecting them to stardom is folly. "There's no such thing as a pitching prospect" probably overtstates the case, but not by so much that any but the most exceptional A-ball arm will make our list. (Bobby Bradley of the Pirates was the only one to do so in 2001.)
Finally, in the specific case of Sylvester, we're talking about a reliever who's 24 in A-ball and missed half the season (with a non-arm injury). He doesn't deserve to be mentioned with the rest of these guys.
I am wondering why you aren't as high on Jon Rauch as just about the rest of the free world. What isn't there to love about a 6'11" guy throwing in the mid-90s with a near 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio?
You shouldn't consider a #10 ranking an indictment of Rauch. Given his limited experience above A-ball, we were unwilling to elevate him to the same heights that other prospect hounds felt was appropriate. When it comes to minor-league pitchers, we're relatively conservative, because a lot can happen to a pitcher between A-ball and the majors. Nevertheless, we like Rauch's future a lot.
Where the hell is Juan Cruz?
The Top 40 Prospects list is a compilation of people about whom we feel reasonably secure that they have big-league careers ahead of them or development arcs that look very impressive among their peers. Among 30 different organizations, that usually ends up being a lot of guys.
Is Cruz talented? Clearly. Is he one of the 40 best prospects in baseball? We didn't think so. Why? To put it bluntly, if we got excited about every A-ball pitcher who throws hard and has a good three- or four-month stretch, we'd get disappointed pretty regularly. That isn't to say that Cruz's talent isn't impressive. But keep in mind that we start off with the proposition that the reason there's no such thing as a pitching prospect is because a lot of what defines whether or not a pitcher makes the majors is his ability to survive while performing an unnatural act, throwing a baseball overhand. Cruz might survive, or he might get hurt before he has his second or third good month in the Florida State League.
That's without bringing up factors beyond his (or any young pitcher's) control: will he be given a workload he can handle? Will he run into an old-school pitching coach who will blow out his arm in the eighth inning of a meaningless 10-1 win over Fort Myers? That's a blanket warning about all pitchers, but generally speaking, we operate from the conservative point of view that if a guy can survive long enough to pitch above Double-A, he can probably survive to make the majors. Cruz spent most of the year in the lowest rung of full-season ball, and had a nice run in the Florida State League after getting promoted. From our point of view, that doesn't add up to one of the 40 best prospects in baseball.
I mean, as a Cubs fan I hope you're right, but this guy is all tools and
no plate discipline at this point. He's the antithesis of the Baseball
Prospectus favorite. Right now I think a Marquis Grissom career
reasonable projection for him, although I am hopeful that Jeff Pentland
will help him learn to draw a walk. Clearly, this is a very important
case for the Cubs, who are on the cusp of developing their first star
position players since the Reagan Administration, and people like me are
At this point I like 19th-rated Choi better than Patterson, and
I think in a year Bobby Hill might pass them both.
I mean, as a Cubs fan I hope you're right, but this guy is all tools and no plate discipline at this point. He's the antithesis of the Baseball Prospectus favorite. Right now I think a Marquis Grissom career is a reasonable projection for him, although I am hopeful that Jeff Pentland will help him learn to draw a walk. Clearly, this is a very important case for the Cubs, who are on the cusp of developing their first star position players since the Reagan Administration, and people like me are watching skeptically.
At this point I like 19th-rated Choi better than Patterson, and I think in a year Bobby Hill might pass them both.
Do I think Choi will be a better all-around hitter? Yes, as you can see in the Top 40 Prospect Roundtable, where we explain a lot of what kind of thought went into this list.
Keep in mind the factors in Corey Patterson's favor are significant: his age, his defensive position, and how we can expect him to improve with age and time.
"He'll have a fair chance of making the team out of spring training; the
chances of the brass doing something they may regret with Matt Clement
before then are good."
I'm curious to know what Mr. Pease meant by the Padres "doing something
they may regret with Matt Clement"; does this refer to the fact that Bruce
Bochy may have worked him a bit hard? Because if it has to do with Kevin
Towers possibly dealing him, I don't see how that is a legitimate concern.
If Towers didn't include Clement in the Kevin Brown trade a few years
back, it's hard to imagine him moving the kid for anything less than
something spectacular. Yeah, Clement still needs work but his upside is
way too high for a guy like Towers, a former pitcher himself, to just toss
away on impulse.
"He'll have a fair chance of making the team out of spring training; the chances of the brass doing something they may regret with Matt Clement before then are good."
I'm curious to know what Mr. Pease meant by the Padres "doing something they may regret with Matt Clement"; does this refer to the fact that Bruce Bochy may have worked him a bit hard? Because if it has to do with Kevin Towers possibly dealing him, I don't see how that is a legitimate concern. If Towers didn't include Clement in the Kevin Brown trade a few years back, it's hard to imagine him moving the kid for anything less than something spectacular. Yeah, Clement still needs work but his upside is way too high for a guy like Towers, a former pitcher himself, to just toss away on impulse.
Clement for Kevin Brown and Clement in 2000 are two distinctly different things. In 1997, Clement was coming off an awesome season split between Rancho Cucamonga and Mobile where he basically chewed up opposing bats and spit them out. With Towers already surrendering Derek Lee I'm not surprised he managed to hold on to Clement.
Last year, as you know, he took several large steps backward. I wasn't referring to the workload, but rather the flurry of trading deadline rumors about Clement being sent all over the map; the Orioles, the Yankees, and God knows where else. The Yankee deal apparently came very close to happening, and it wasn't for Towers' reluctance to include Clement that it didn't.
The Padres are very disappointed in Clement's season last year, and why not? With his walks, hit batsmen, and wild pitches, Clement looked something like Rick Ankiel did in the postseason--only he did it all year.
That said, there's no way I give up on Clement now if I'm the Padres, considering his age, his paycheck, his upside, and especially the team's chance of contending in 2001. I'm just not sure the Padres feel as strongly as I do about that.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on anything baseball-related. We'll publish the best of what we get frequently at www.baseballprospectus.com.