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August 17, 2012 11:05 am

The Process: Resetting the Astros Roster

11

Bradley Ankrom

Jeff Luhnow's first task was to clear the mess Ed Wade made, and he's already given the Astros a fresh start.

Since taking over as the general manager in Houston last December, Jeff Luhnow has turned over a good chunk of the 40-man roster he inherited, a collection of players who contributed to the Astros’ first 100-loss (106-loss, to be precise) season in franchise history in 2011.

Lame-duck GM Ed Wade was able to unload the Astros’ top marketable assets—Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn—last summer, but the task of moving the team’s more onerous veteran contracts was left to Luhnow. That process picked up in earnest this summer when Houston shuttled veterans J.A. Happ, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, and Wandy Rodriguez off to contenders in exchange for more than a dozen minor-league prospects from five organizations.

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August 2, 2012 5:00 am

The Process: The Mariners' Missed Opportunity

39

Bradley Ankrom

Dealing Felix Hernandez at this year's non-waiver trade deadline could have significantly brightened the Mariners' future.

A true no. 1 starter is the rarest commodity in baseball, and the Seattle Mariners have had one in Felix Hernandez for the better part of a decade. Unfortunately, much of Hernandez’s value has been wasted on uncompetitive clubs: only twice since he reached the big leagues in 2005 have the Mariners finished above .500.

The subject of dealing their homegrown superstar is a sensitive one for Mariners fans, but an objective look at the facts suggests that the future of the organization would be much brighter if general manager Jack Zduriencik had moved Hernandez to a contender for a package of young impact bats that are close to big-league ready prior to this summer's non-waiver trade deadline.

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The youth involved in last week's 10-player trade between the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays means we might have to wait awhile for closure.

Houston and Toronto kicked this summer’s trading season into high gear by consummating a 10-player deal on July 20. Pitchers David Carpenter, J.A. Happ, and Brandon Lyon became the latest exiles in the Astros’ veterans-for-prospects purge, heading north in exchange for veterans Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, four low-minors prospects, and a player to be named later. R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein wrote about it here.

July 2012: Houston sends David Carpenter, J.A. Happ, and Brandon Lyon to Toronto for Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joseph Musgrove, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, and a player to be named.

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June 7, 2012 5:00 am

The Process: How to Evaluate Precocious Prospects

13

Bradley Ankrom

Is it better for a prospect to be very good at an age-appropriate level, or very young in an advanced league?

This article began as a comparison of Tigers third-base prospect Nick Castellanos and former Padres third-base prospect Sean Burroughs. Castellanos tore through the Florida State League this season, hitting .405/.461/.553 in 55 games, before being promoted to Double-A earlier this week, though his raw power has yet to manifest itself outside of batting practice.

At the same age more than a decade ago, Sean Burroughs was working on a .322/.386/.467 season at Triple-A Portland of the Pacific Coast League, two levels ahead of Castellanos’ recently-vacated Advanced Class-A assignment. Burroughs was also two levels ahead at age 19, making the task of comparing the players a challenge.

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May 17, 2012 3:00 am

The Process: Fixing the Phillies

49

Bradley Ankrom

Are the Phillies doomed to enter a lengthy period of losing, or can they make a quick return to the top by selling their expiring assets now?

As Ben Lindbergh noted in April, the Phillies have maintained one of baseball’s oldest rosters in recent years, and 2012 has proven to be more of the same. The only everyday players on the roster born in the 1980s are Freddy Galvis, Hunter Pence, and Shane Victorino, and Galvis wouldn’t be playing regularly if 33-year-old second baseman Chase Utley were healthy.

Percentage of Plate Appearances by Age Group

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May 1, 2012 3:00 am

The Process: Post-Draft Rankings: You're Doing it Wrong

6

Bradley Ankrom

The 2000 draft serves as an example of why knee-jerk reactions to the draft are often premature.

Rankings are always of interest to sports fans, but many analysts are uncomfortable with the notion of slapping grades on players whose real value won’t be known for a number of years. This is particularly true in baseball, where players selected in the annual amateur (Rule 4) draft are further away from the major leagues than those of any other major sport. The majority of players taken in the football and basketball drafts have spent time performing under the bright lights, and against the premier competition, of NCAA Division I athletics, and the transition from amateur to professional is a relative breeze. In baseball, only a small percentage of the 1,500 or so players chosen each year hail from Division I baseball programs.

More than a decade ago, some were critical of the Marlins for allegedly putting signability before talent when they tabbed Adrian Gonzalez with the number-one overall pick of the 2000 draft. Gonzalez was regarded as the most polished high school hitter of that year’s crop, but few considered him the best talent available. As it turns out, Gonzalez has contributed the third-most wins above replacement (28.43) among players who signed that year, trailing only Chase Utley (36.26) and Jason Bay (30.53). Given the health woes of Utley and Bay in recent years, Gonzalez appears likely to usurp them atop the list. Joe Borchard, who received that year’s largest signing bonus ($5.3 million) from the White Sox, has the third-lowest WARP total (-1.55) among players who have reached the major leagues.

Players Receiving Signing Bonuses of
$2 Million or Greater, 2000 Draft


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Using the relative strength of each draft class can help us determine whether Brien Taylor really is the worst first-overall pick in history.

To date, six of the 46 players taken with the first-overall pick in baseball’s annual Rule 4 draft have not played in the major leagues. Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, and Tim Beckham—the top choices in three of the last four drafts—remain active, while a fourth, Matt Bush, currently resides in Charlotte County (Fla.) jail as police investigate a series of hit-and-run accidents on March 23 that left a 72-year-old motorcyclist comatose.

Only two former number-one picks have retired from the game without reaching the big leagues: catcher Steve Chilcott, taken by the Mets in 1966, and left-hander Brien Taylor, the Yankees’ top choice in 1991. Both players’ careers were derailed by injury, though Chilcott’s performance, even when healthy, inspired little confidence in his major-league future. Taylor, on the other hand, quickly established himself as an elite prospect before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder during an altercation in December 1993. Rehabilitation cost Taylor the 1994 season, not to mention eight miles an hour from his fastball, and the arm that changed the draft never realized the potential of what some consider the greatest high school pitcher they’ve ever seen.

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April 10, 2012 3:00 am

The Process: Have Teams Used Extra Draft Picks Efficiently?

7

Bradley Ankrom

Exploring the relationship between the number of high draft picks a team has and the amount of value it receives.

Last June, the Tampa Bay Rays became only the third team in the draft era to have 10 or more picks before the start of the fourth round. Their 13 selections topped the previous record of 11 set by the Montreal Expos in 1990. The Rays’ 10 extra picks were their consolation prizes after outfielders Carl Crawford and Brad Hawpe and relievers Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, and Chad Qualls departed via free agency.

Teams began receiving compensation draft picks shortly after the abolishment of the reserve clause in 1975. Free agent compensation was established as a way to maintain the balance of talent within the league. Generally speaking, when a player left one team to sign a free agent contract with another club, the player’s former club could receive the first- or second-round pick of his new club in the next draft, as well as additional supplementary—or “sandwich”—picks depending upon the quality of the player it had lost. The literary and cinematic success of Moneyball has contributed to rising interest in the draft, and recent iterations of baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement have added more compensation picks than ever, affording a considerable advantage to teams who are able to maximize their selections.

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Investigating the first 10 rounds of the 1965-2001 drafts to determine which four-year school has produced the most major-league value.

Among pitchers who have debuted since 1965, three of the five best career WARP totals belong to players drafted out of the collegiate ranks. Former Texas Longhorn Roger Clemens leads the way with 103.4 WARP earned over 24 big-league seasons, followed by ex-Southern Cal star Randy Johnson (90.7). Prep hurlers Greg Maddux (83.9) and Steve Carlton (73.4) take the third and fourth spots, and another former Trojan, Tom Seaver (72.9), rounds out the top five. 

While schools like Texas and USC are well known on the national stage, successful baseball programs can claim significant credit for increasing the profiles of several less-familiar colleges and universities, including Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, and Long Beach State, three schools lacking the profile (and revenue) associated with Division I football programs.

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There's no future for Matt Dominguez at third base in Miami, but the Marlins' former top prospect might still make another team happy.

The most immediately visible effect of Miami’s signing Jose Reyes to a six-year deal last December was that face-of-the-franchise shortstop Hanley Ramirez would be forced to another position. The Marlins were quick to clarify that Ramirez would not move to center field as some had speculated, but rather third base, where he would team with Reyes to give Miami one of the most potent left sides of the infield in the game. Less discussed was that Reyes’ arrival virtually closed the door on former top pick Matt Dominguez’s career in Miami, exactly three months after he’d made his major-league debut against the Mets.

It may seem like Dominguez has been around for ages, but the truth is that he won’t turn 23 until the end of August. The 12th-overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft, Dominguez was considered by some to be a “Scott Rolen starter kit” at third base, possessing acumen on the field and in the batter’s box that would enable him to serve as a franchise cornerstone for a decade or more. He and shortstop Mike Moustakas, taken second overall by Kansas City, became the second pair of high school teammates selected among the top 15 picks of the same draft.

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March 12, 2012 3:00 am

The Process: How Much Do Early Pitcher Promotions Matter?

2

Bradley Ankrom

Do pitchers who play in full-season leagues at age 17 or 18 often find success, or is there still no such thing as a pitching prospect?

As part of last week’s Prospects on the Bubble series, we looked at hitters who had played full seasons at advanced Class-A as 17- or 18-year-olds. A number of readers asked about pitchers who have done the same thing, and the results (using a minimum of 100 innings pitched) are significantly less impressive in terms of both quantity and quality.

The hitters group was headlined by Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Roberto Alomar and featured three others—Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield—who posted career WARPs over 50 and had legitimate Cooperstown cases themselves. The amount of major-league success achieved by the precocious pitchers pales in comparison, as only Dwight Gooden was able to earn more than 50 career WARP.

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