April 11, 2001
Top 40 Prospects In Review: Part Six
The Ones We Left Out
While there was significant agreement between our Top 40 Prospects list of a year ago and the Top Prospect lists made out by John Sickels and Baseball America, there was some discord as well. Both Sickels and BA had 14 players in their own Top 40 that did not make our list. Seven of those players were found on each list, making for a total of 21 different players that were felt to merit Top 40 consideration by at least one other publication, but who we felt did not belong on our list. We'll cover those players in brief now.
John Patterson, RHP, Arizona (BA: #10, Sickels: #24)
You know how we're fond of saying "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect?" John Patterson is why. Patterson's stuff--particularly his curveball--was so impressive that Baseball America ranked him in their top 10, despite numbers that were superficially unimpressive. He had posted a 4.77 ERA at El Paso in 1999, but when you factor in the park and his fine 117/42 strikeout-to-walk ratio, it's clear that he did pitch well. His 7.04 ERA after a promotion to Triple-A was not nearly as impressive, though, and he had a history of elbow soreness, which in a curveball pitcher concerned us enough to limit him to an Honorable Mention.
Patterson showed up in the spring of 2000 without his fastball, and it was only after he had made three appearances for Tucson that he was finally diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament. He's expected back sometime this year from Tommy John surgery. An easy grade 1.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Tampa Bay (BA: #13, Sickels: #32)
Josh Hamilton also received an Honorable Mention; while we liked his pedigree and his talent, it was hard to get too excited about a player deep in the low minors with plate discipline (13 walks, 43 strikeouts in rookie ball) as bad as his. Hamilton moved up to low-A ball and continued to develop as a hitter, and his talent seduced the Devil Rays enough that they were briefly tempted to bring him all the way to Tampa Bay this spring. Cooler heads finally prevailed, as Hamilton clearly needs another year, if not more, in the minors. He's on the right track. Grade 5.
Wilfredo Rodriguez, LHP, Houston (BA: #25, Sickels: #19)
See Patterson, John. We liked Wilfredo Rodriguez a lot; we thought he was the best pitching prospect in a loaded Astros system, and gave him Honorable Mention status. But it takes a truly exceptional talent to make our Top 40 list as a pitcher in A ball.
Rodriguez battled assorted injuries in 2000 and walked 82 men in 111 innings, posting ERAs of 4.75 and 5.77 in A ball and Double-A. He did advance to Double-A, and he could certainly rebound if he's healthy this year. For his performance last year, though, he gets a grade 2.
A.J. Burnett, RHP, Florida (BA: #20, Sickels: #37)
A.J. Burnett was a hot prospect in 1998, blowing through the low minors. In 1999, he went to Double-A and struggled for most of the season, posting a 5.52 ERA, although his struggles were said to be more mental and physical. He got an August promotion to Florida anyway and responded with a 4-2 record and a 3.48 ERA, enough to get him back on two out of three prospect lists. Our general suspicion of pitching prospects, and concerns that his struggles in Double-A might not be a one-time occurrence, kept him off our list.
Burnett tore a ligament in his thumb in spring training and missed half of the 2000 season, but was back in Florida after just three rehab starts and posted a 4.79 ERA with reasonable peripherals. Having proven that his 1999 performance in the majors was not a fluke, Burnett is expected to be a key part of the Marlins rebuilt young rotation, and earns a grade 5.
Drew Henson, 3B, New York (AL) (BA: #24, Sickels: #40)
There was no denying his talent; Drew Henson hit .280/.345/.480 as a 19-year-old in the Florida State League, which would be impressive for anyone, let alone a guy playing baseball during his summer vacation. But there's the rub: baseball was only a part-time job for Henson, and we have too much respect for the skills needed to play baseball at the major-league level to have given Henson more than Honorable Mention status.
Henson moved up to Double-A in 2000 and hit .287/.347/.439 for Norwich, but his plate discipline stagnated and he hit just .172/.221/.344 in 16 games for Chattanooga (Double-A) after he was traded to the Reds. His status at the end of last season was the same as the year before: great talent, but questionable future until he commits full time. That's a grade 4, but now that he has made that commitment, his grade for next year should be a lot higher.
Abraham Nunez, OF, Florida (BA: #30, Sickels: #29)
Abraham Nunez, who was just the second-best player the Marlins got for Matt Mantei, showed prodigious five-tool talents as a 19-year-old in 1999, hitting .273/.378/.492 with 22 home runs, 86 walks, and 40 steals. Of course, he did all that at High Desert, one of the best hitters' parks in the minors, which was enough to keep him off of our list.
He had surgery on his elbow in the off-season, which forced the Marlins to DH him all year even though he was previously an outstanding right fielder, and he bounced between Double-A and A ball, depending on which affiliate was facing an AL team and therefore was using the DH. The results were contradictory: just .194/.376/.262 in A ball, but .276/.392/.462 in Double-A. He's supposed to be at full health this season, and his performance at Double-A despite the arm problems and his travel schedule earns him a grade 3.
Francisco Cordero, RHRP, Texas (BA: #29, Sickels: #36)
As much respect as we hold for the typical pitching prospect, how much respect do you think we'd give a relief prospect? We've been doing our Top 40 list for three years and 120 prospects now, and we have yet to place a reliever on the list. The last minor-league reliever who deserved Top 40 status was probably Armando Benitez, who was last seen burning through the minor leagues in 1993-94.
Francisco Cordero had an excellent season in Double-A in 1999 (1.38 ERA, 35 hits, 22 walks, and 58 strikeouts in 52 innings), but he had already missed most of 1998 with a stress fracture in his arm, which was all the excuse we needed. He made the Rangers' bullpen last season, but in retrospect he probably shouldn't have, as he was terrible (5.35 ERA, 87 hits, 48 walks, 49 strikeouts in 77 innings). Now his back is acting up on him. Grade 2.
Mark Mulder, LHP, Oakland (BA: #12)
This was a heck of a reach for Baseball America, even conceding that we gave Mark Mulder Honorable Mention status. Mulder isn't your standard flame-throwing young pitcher who might deserve top prospect status despite a relative lack of results. He's a polished college left-hander who gave up 152 hits in 129 innings in his first pro season. That's actually a pretty impressive debut, given that it occurred in the Pacific Coast League.
In 2000, Mulder spent almost the entire season in the A's rotation, making 27 starts before he had back woes, and went 9-10, 5.44, with 191 hits allowed in 154 innings, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of just 88 to 69. I may be in the minority here, but I'm skeptical that Mulder is bound for immediate greatness, and I'm reluctant to give him more than a grade 4.
Hee Seop Choi, 1B, Chicago (NL) (Sickels: #18)
This was a great pick by Sickels, who zeroed in on Hee Seop Choi after he hit .321/.422/.610 in the Midwest League as a 20-year-old. Choi played at two levels in 2000 and excelled at both, hitting .296/.369/.533 in the Florida State League and then bumping his numbers up to .303/.419/.623 in his first exposure to Double-A. The Cubs were impressed enough to let Mark Grace leave, and we're impressed enough to give Choi a grade 6.
Josh Beckett, RHP, Florida (BA: #19)
Josh Beckett hadn't even made his pro debut a season ago, so for us to have given him any kind of rating would have been premature. That's the kind of player that Baseball America evaluates best, of course, and Beckett certainly lived up to the hype when he was able to pitch. He posted a 2.12 ERA and had more strikeouts (61) than baserunners allowed (60) in just 12 starts, as he spent time on the DL twice with tendinitis. He's still a couple of years away, but despite the arm troubles, he showed enough to get a grade 4.
Eric Munson, 1B, Detroit (BA: #23)
Eric Munson's chance of making our Top 40 died the instant he was moved to first base. His pro debut in 1999 (.266/.378/.504) was nice, but coming in low-A ball, it was a little underwhelming. Munson was promoted to Double-A in 2000, but hit just .252/.348/.455 and the whispers have already started in Detroit that he was a blown draft pick. He's just 23, and his grasp of secondary skills means that he should still be in line to replace Tony Clark next year, but for now he doesn't deserve anything higher than a grade 3.
Jesus Colome, RHRP, Oakland (Sickels: #26)
Our "no relievers" rule doesn't technically apply to Jesus Colome, who has been used mostly as a starter in the minors despite the fact that he projects as a future closer. His performance in 1999 (129 innings, 125 hits, 60 walks, 127 strikeouts, 3.36 ERA), while impressive, wasn't enough to merit Top 40 consideration. His stuff--particularly that triple-digit fastball of his--was enough for Sickels to rank him.
Colome handled Double-A so well (110 IP, 99 H, 50 BB, 95 K, 3.59 ERA at Midland) that most A's fans think that Billy Beane made a rare mistake in surrendering him for Jim Mecir. Grade 5.
Ramon Hernandez, C, Oakland (Sickels: #27)
While Baseball America, like us, ties the eligibility for their list to a player's rookie status, John Sickels will allow a player up to 50 games of major-league experience (or 10 starts/50 innings for pitchers). Ramon Hernandez was thus only eligible for his list, so he's not a real point of comparison. If he was, he probably would earn a grade 4, as he hit .241/.311/.387 and cemented himself as the A's catcher for at least the near future.
Mike Lamb, 3B, Texas (Sickels: #31)
Mike Lamb had a great season in 1999, hitting .324/.386/.551 with 51 doubles for Tulsa, but he turned 24 during the season, making him a little too old, relative to his level, for our tastes. He made the jump to the majors in 2000 and was the Rangers' starting third baseman all year, but hit just .278/.328/.373 and lost his job to Ken Caminiti after the season. Grade 3.
Alex Escobar, OF, New York (NL) (BA: #34)
Alex Escobar was our #3 prospect two years ago, so we certainly liked him, but he played in all of three games in 1999 and there were simply too many other good prospects without the health questions for us to rank him. Baseball America believed in his tools and refused to give up on him, and Escobar returned with a vengeance, jumping to Double-A and hitting .288/.375/.487 while playing in 122 games. Grade 6.
Aaron Myette, RHP, Chicago (AL) (Sickels: #34)
Aaron Myette looked like a pretty good pitching prospect a year ago, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 135/77 in Double-A wasn't terribly impressive. He made the jump to Triple-A in 2000 and was just fair (112 innings, 103 hits, 56 walks, 85 strikeouts, 4.35 ERA), which meant that he was passed by about a dozen other White Sox pitchers. Myette was traded to Texas in the Royce Clayton deal. Grade 3.
Felipe Lopez, SS, Toronto (BA: #38)
A pure tools player who was still in low-A ball in 1999, Felipe Lopez has dazzling potential but is still very raw, the kind of player that Baseball America specializes in covering. Lopez jumped a level to Double-A last season and held his own, hitting .257/.303/.371, but was just 12-for-23 in steals and his strikeout-to-walk ratio deteriorated from 157/61 to 110/31. He doesn't turn 21 until next month, so he has plenty of time to work on his polish; right now he looks like a dead ringer for the guy whose job he'll one day challenge for, Alex Gonzalez. Grade 4.
Luis Rivera, RHP, Atlanta (Sickels: #38)
Another live arm in the low minors, Luis Rivera looked like a potential closer a year ago, and even made the Braves' roster straight out of A ball in April. He pitched just seven innings for them before arm woes surfaced and ruined the rest of his season.
He was traded to the Orioles for B.J. Surhoff at the trading deadline, and made one appearance in Baltimore, but pitched just 42 innings all year and just had shoulder surgery that should sideline him until 2002. He gets a grade 2 only because he did go from A ball to the majors in one year, even if his arm caved in shortly thereafter.
Danys Baez, RHP, Cleveland (BA: #39)
Danys Baez hadn't even thrown a professional pitch a year ago at this time (unless you count Communist labor as a "profession") but had still received $14.5 million from the Indians, so he obviously had impressed the scouts.
Baez showed he was no El Duque, though, hardly dominating A ball (4.71 ERA) in nine starts before faring better in Double-A (3.68 ERA, 98 hits, 32 walks, 77 strikeouts in 103 innings). Still, it was a letdown for fans who had been told that he would be in the Indians' rotation by mid-season.
This spring, he's been told his future isn't in the rotation at all, as he'll be groomed to join the Indians' bullpen later this year. Grade 3, and that's being charitable.
Junior Guerrero, RHP, Kansas City (Sickels: #39)
We had given Junior Guerrero an Honorable Mention because of his pretty numbers in the low minors (including 181 strikeouts in 155 innings), and because, okay, I'll admit it, he pitches in the Royals' system. But Sickels ranked him in his Top 40 without the same bias, so I do feel somewhat vindicated.
In any case, Guerrero had a pretty awful season in Double-A (5.70 ERA, 79/69 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and was moved to the bullpen late in the year in the hopes of rejuvenating his fastball. Grade 2.
Chris George, LHP, Kansas City (BA: #40)
While Guerrero proved to be overhyped, his teammate Chris George was the one who deserved the accolades. I know that David Rawnsley is a big fan of George, though I'm unsure how much input he had in the decision to rank George this high. It was a shrewd decision, regardless; George zipped through Double-A in four months before struggling with his control a little in Triple-A, and made a cameo appearance on the Olympic Team. He's clearly the Royals' best pitching prospect at this point. Grade 5.
In our next--and final--installment, we'll break it all down, compare how everyone did, and sift through the numbers to see if there's anything more we can learn.
Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.