March 31, 2009
Tuesday's Monday Ten Pack
A day late and a dollar short as they say, as the in-season Monday regular feature returns 24 hours late in the first Ten Pack of the year.
Ryan Harvey, OF, and Mark Pawelek, LHP (ex-Cubs)
The Cubs were 26th in this year's organizational rankings, and that's mostly due to some really bad draft picks of late. The situation was made all the more glaring by this week's release of Harvey and Pawelek, a pair of former highly touted first-round selections. The sixth overall pick in 2003, Harvey signed for a $2.4 million bonus, the fourth-highest bonus paid for anyone in the draft that year. The pick was hardly controversial; the Tampa-area product stood 6'5" and 220 pounds and was a ripped athlete with plus-plus power and an outstanding arm. He led the Midwest League in home runs and RBI in his full-season debut in 2005, but there were already red flags appearing around his game, as he struck out 137 times in 467 at-bats with just 24 walks, leading to a .302 on-base percentage. He went backwards the following two years, and then spent 2007 and 2008 unable to escape the Florida State League while dealing with injuries. Two years after drafting Harvey, the Cubs appeared to have quite a find in Pawelek, when the left-hander that some saw as the top high school pitcher in the draft fell to 20th overall due to bonus concerns, and quickly signed for a slightly over-slot bonus of $1.75 million. Seen as a highly polished product who might move quickly, instead conditioning issues, effort issues, and the occasional ridiculous injury (he broke his non-throwing arm two years ago by tripping over his PlayStation) led to just four innings in a full-season league, and just 149 1/3 IP overall in his four professional seasons. Harvey and Pawelek were supposed to be the team's starting right fielder and a fixture in the rotation by now, but instead they're just footnotes in a long thesis proving that the draft is an inexact science.
Jason Kipnis, OF, Arizona State University
A fourth-round pick by San Diego last year as a sophomore-eligible player, Kipnis was the seventh-highest player not to sign in the 2008 draft. He's an interesting prospect with a little power and a bit of speed, but pro scouts had problems seeing him as a center fielder, and when he tried to bump up his value by playing in the Cape Cod League during negotiations, it backfired when he had a rough showing in the wood-bat league; he and the Padres never came close to an agreement. Right now it's looking like it might work out for Kipnis, who could go higher in this year's draft in a college class that is desperately lacking in hitters. With another great weekend, Kipnis is now batting .469/.569/.914 in 23 games, going 38-for-81 with eight home runs, 20 walks, and 11 stolen bases, and while scouts still question his ability to play in the middle pasture, they're so desperate for anything resembling a decent performance that he's rising on many draft boards.
Andrew McCutchen, CF (Pirates)
Overall, the Pirates' spring training camp was incredibly positive in terms of its tone. Pedro Alvarez looked fantastic in a brief big-league look, third baseman Andy LaRoche finally appears to be ready to fulfill his promise, and the pitching staff, especially Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf, looked sharp. However, the story of the last two weeks was McCutchen, as the former first-round pick ended his spring on a roll, bringing his averages up to .318/.423/.561 before being assigned to minor league camp on Monday. He returns to Triple-A with a few little things left to work on-maintaining his consistent approach, and using his speed on the basepaths more effectively-and provided nothing goes wrong, he should be called up at some point during the season; any team beginning the year with Nyjer Morgan playing every day obviously needs some help in the outfield. This team is going to be a dangerous one offensively in the next two or three years, and players like McCutchen are giving Pirates fans something they haven't had for years-a glimmer of hope.
Ryan Perry, RHP (Tigers)
Perry has officially faced 65 batters as a professional, but with Joel Zumaya remaining firmly in the 'broken' file, we approach April with him still in camp as the favorite to begin the year in the big leagues. One of the fastest risers in last year's draft, Perry really hasn't missed a beat since last spring at Arizona, as he's sat at 96-98 mph with an overpowering fastball while giving up just one run on eight hits over 11 2/3 innings this spring. To put him in the big leagues at this point is probably more out of the team absolute need than a reflection of his readiness, but scouts are saying that the quality stuff he's showing should be enough for him to easily hold his own, and should help the stock of this year's crop of college closers as teams look for some instant returns in the draft.
Rich Poythress, 1B, University of Georgia
Poythress began the year as a probable third- or fourth-round pick; he was one of those big college sluggers with hitting ability but few other tools, and a tough going in the 2008 Cape Cod League diminished his value. Now his stock is on fire after the first 25 games of the Bulldogs' schedule, as the 245-pound beast has been among college baseball's most feared hitters this year. Despite going 0-for-5 on Sunday, Poythress still had one of the best weekends in the game, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and two home runs on Friday against a very good Tennessee squad, and following that up with two more bombs on Saturday. Now 42-for-94 with 13 home runs and 22 walks, Poythress has a video game-like line of .447/.556/.936 for a team averaging nearly ten runs scored per game. With so few college hitters in the draft, and even fewer performing well, his timing is perfect. He's already made himself a few hundred thousand dollars with this start, and that number could move into the seven-figure range if he keeps it up.
David Price, LHP (Rays)
I've spent the last few years heaping nothing but praise on the Rays, so when I disagree so strongly with a move at first glance, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what part of the story I'm not understanding. I can't think of anything, and I'm left shaking my head in disbelief. Price begins the 2009 season at Triple-A Durham, a decision that could cost the Rays a title. The best three teams in the American League, and perhaps in all of baseball, are in the AL East, so no matter how you shake it, one of them will be on the outside looking in come October. Starting Jason Hammel instead of Price is going to cost the team wins that they can't afford to sacrifice, all in the name of managing his workload and developing his changeup and a slider (the pitches that limited him so much this spring that he allowed one run in 8 1/3 innings while striking out 10). Under the hard and fast rule of not increasing a pitcher's innings by more than 20 percent, Price should theoretically only throw 150 innings this year, but much of that results from a cautious approach used last spring in dealing with some minor elbow soreness that delayed Price's debut in '08. That cautiousness, which seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, now has the team making a bad decision this year in not allowing a full workload in 2010 for the top pitching prospect in the game. Keeping players healthy is a good thing. Thinking long-term is a good thing. Doing both blindly, with little eye for the present or the ultimate rewards which could be within reach seems more than a bit foolhardy, but again... maybe I'm just missing something.
Jordan Schafer, CF (Braves)
When the Braves traded Josh Anderson to the Tigers on Monday for minor league side-armer Rudy Darrow, it became clear that Jordan Schafer would open camp as the everyday center fielder. They haven't made that official yet, but the writing is on the wall. A top prospect entering the season, Schafer's 2008 was hampered by a strange 50-game suspension for some mysterious involvement with HGH, followed by a slow start upon his return. This spring, he's looked every bit like the player he was in 2007, batting .373/.403/.542 with gap power, speed, and maturity in the sense that he just looks like he belongs. There are going to be some struggles for Schafer, especially on an approach level-expect few walks and a good number of strikeouts-but it was a case of a perfect storm really, as a struggling, adjusting Schafer will still be better than Anderson or Gregor Blanco.
Travis Snider, OF (Blue Jays)
When asked for fantasy advice during our book tour in support of Baseball Prospectus 2009, the first two words out of my mouth are usually, "Travis" and "Snider." While currently banged up with a sore knee, Snider has been one of those players that almost every scout in Florida is talking about. He's shown power to all fields, including a home run that left Legends Field in Tampa that is already legendary, while batting .362/.375/.660 overall. He's not just one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, he's the best hitter on the Blue Jays right now, and if he stays healthy, he's an easy Rookie of the Year candidate.
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State University
Talking about Strasburg the pitching prospect is almost becoming boring. I've spent the past six weeks talking to scouts and trying to find just one thing that might be wrong with him, and I can't find it. At this point the far more interesting discussion involves the money. He's obviously going to get some kind of record-shattering deal, but the $50 million dollars that's been floating around is just silly. Scott Boras does business in a particular way, and he certainly doesn't shoot out numbers in March; it's hard enough to get a number out of him in June. Most industry insiders are guessing at something in the neighborhood of $20 million, and unlike many Boras clients, Strasburg may have an incentive to sign quickly, because if Washington drops him right into the big-league rotation (and every scout thinks he'd be fine, if not very good there), that will get him to free agency much more quickly. That it might take $20 million might seem crazy, but six years of him simply meeting expectations at that price could be the bargain of the century.
Matt Wieters, C (Orioles)
As stated in the David Price portion of this 2009 debut edition 2009 of Ten Pack, the best three teams in the American League are all in the East. Baltimore is not one of those teams. I can understand sending Wieters down to Triple-A, as long as it's just for a couple of weeks as a way to keep him off the road to free agency, but if he's still down there in May, the Orioles are wasting time. Luckily, we have evidence that won't be the case; even at the Winter Meetings, when the Orioles traded Ramon Hernandez, general manager Andy McPhail had said that the trade was made because of Matt Wieters. This is an Evan Longoria-type situation, where the clock is being managed by a team with no chance to win this year, and the ability to sign Wieters to an arbitration-avoiding contract could be made more difficult by the Boras factor. Just be patient Orioles fans, the Greg Zaun era should only last for a few more weeks.
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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