Kevin finishes his scouting primer with a look at how pitchers are evaluated.
Kevin’s scouting primer continues with a look at the defensive tools.
Kevin gives us a scouting vocabulary primer, starting with what gets evaluated when looking at a prospect’s hitting abilities.
It’s not too early to look ahead to the 2006 Draft, which expects to have few position players taken in the first round.
Kevin wraps up his assessment of each division’s farm systems with a look at the NL West.
Despite the NL East looking like a veteran division, Kevin’s got plenty to talk about, as the Marlins come close to fielding an all-rookie lineup in 2006.
Shifting over to the senior circuit, Kevin looks at the Central division, where we may see some teams compete thanks to some home-grown stars.
Kevin moves out West to profile the systems of the Left Coast.
Kevin turns to the minor league systems of the AL East in his trip around the majors.
Kevin kicks off a look at the systems of every division in the majors, beginning with the AL Central.
The 2003 season will go down as the final chapter for the New Haven Ravens franchise, as the team will relocate to Manchester, New Hampshire in 2004. The final season will also go down as one of the best as well, having won 79 games, the Northern Division championship, and putting more major league prospects on display than any team in recent memory. The Ravens hosted nearly every notable prospect in the Blue Jays’ system for some length of time, and an outfield trio of first round selections highlighted their lineup.
Alexis Rios, the team’s number one selection in 1999, continued his transformation from project to prospect with a breakout season. The 6’6 Puerto Rican had been projected as a power hitter when selected, but had managed just six home runs and a .362 slugging percentage in 1450 career at-bats prior to 2003. He also had shown little regard for the base on balls, drawing 82 walks in his first 380 professional games, and seemingly did not fit the mold that the Blue Jays were building.
The coaches preached discipline to him, however, and the lessons learned helped him earn the Eastern League MVP. His .352/.402/.551 line translates to a .255 MjEqA, a solid mark for a 22-year-old at any level. He nearly doubled his career home run mark, hitting 11 round-trippers as part of his 54 extra base hit attack. He also set a career high with 39 walks, though his plate discipline deteriorated as the season wore on and he saw his strikeouts rise as well. However, that essentially boils down to nitpicking what was a tremendously successful year.
On September 9th, Edwin Jackson assumed he would be celebrating his 20th birthday with a few friends. Instead, the Dodgers summoned him to join the big club in Phoenix and make his major league debut. Towing the rubber for the Diamondbacks was Randy Johnson, who we’ve heard is a decent pitcher in his own right. The 36,488 people in attendance could hardly be classified as friends, and we are fairly certain that most had never heard of him before game day. Jackson made himself at home anyways, holding Arizona to one run on four hits in six innings to earn his first major league win.
Very few pitchers can make the necessary adjustments to debut by their 20th birthday, but Jackson’s climb up the ladder is even more remarkable than most. He is a conversion, having made the transition from high school outfielder to major league pitcher after the Dodgers selected him in the sixth round of the 2001 draft. Jackson is not alone, as the presence of converted position players on the mound is growing in the major leagues, and more teams are viewing a pitching career as a viable alternative to releasing struggling hitters who were blessed with strong arms.
The Inland Empire 66ers were anointed the ugly stepchild of the Seattle Mariners farm system in 2003, coming out of spring training with few prospects and a roster full of organizational players. When asked about the talent assigned to San Bernardino, Farm Director Benny Looper was quoted as saying, “As far as guys who are ever going to see a big-league uniform, it’s pretty thin.” That is not exactly the overly optimistic glowing that you will see from most front office personnel, but the sentiment was basically accepted; this team just isn’t very good.
After a first month that lived up to expectations, things turned around in May, and the 66ers completed an improbable turnaround by capturing the 2003 California League championship in September. Perhaps the most important decision of the season came in early May, when Ryan Ketchner was rewarded for his excellent relief work with a spot start against High Desert. He proceeded to earn himself another start in the rotation with six strong innings of two-hit baseball. Given the opportunity, Ketchner made the most of it and did not look back. He pitched his way onto the mid-season and postseason All-Star teams before being named the playoffs MVP for his remarkable performance. His playoff line included 13 2/3 scoreless innings, a .167 opponents’ batting average, and four walks against 16 strikeouts.
On July 12, 2002, the Padres and White Sox struck a deal. The White Sox acquired one-time top prospect D’Angelo Jimenez for the non-pitching version of Alex Fernandez and Humberto Quintero, a 22-year-old catcher who was hitting .194 in the Carolina League. While it went unnoticed in most of baseball, I considered July 12th to be a dark day last summer, as the White Sox had just removed, from my own back yard, the most exciting defensive player I had ever seen. Quintero was simultaneously a joy to watch and a pain to endure. He exemplified both what is right and wrong with scouting in every inning, bringing entertainment to his fans and losses to his team. There was no mistaking the entertainment factor of watching him behind the plate. There was also no avoidance of the misery of watching him overmatched at the plate, wondering how someone so good at one part of a game could be so awful at another. Quintero is one of three or four people alive that I would pay to watch play defense. When scouts talk about great catch-and-throw guys, they compare them to Ivan Rodriguez. Quintero is currently on a level that Rodriguez has not seen in a decade. His arm strength is at the top of the scale, and his quick release and footwork have earned him the nickname “Little Pudge.”
This was an abysmal season to be a fan of the New York Mets. Roger Cedeno continued to amaze with his play in the outfield, Tom Glavine complained that umpires actually wanted him to throw the ball in the vicinity of home plate, and Ty Wigginton was the only player to accumulate 500 at-bats. In the midst of disaster, however, shone the bright light of Jose Reyes. The 20-year-old shortstop hit .300 in his major league debut, justifying the hype surrounding his arrival and raising the expectations for the organizational savior. Reyes was the first of the Mets’ “Big Five” prospects to arrive on the scene, beating Aaron Heilman by a few weeks, and has already earned the expectation of stardom from the faithful at Shea.
However, this column is not about Reyes. The subject of this piece is David Wright, who may just be the most under-appreciated prospect in the game. While Wright does not come with the excitement factor that Reyes’ blinding speed brings, there is an argument to be made that Wright is the better bet for a productive major league career. The young third baseman, in two-and-a-half years of professional baseball, has established himself as a premier offensive talent who is improving at all facets of the game.
One of the favorite terms of baseball officials is “development path,” used to describe the gradual improvement of a prospect into a major league player. As Nate Silver’s PECOTA system shows us, most players follow a somewhat normal path of improvement and can be classified into a certain type of player depending on their skill set. Some low-level shortstops are that in name only, really possessing offensive skills destined for a corner spot. Others are highlight-reel defenders who hit like pitchers, but amaze and entertain with their prowess in the field. Occasionally, though, we run across a prospect that simply bewilders, showing wildly different skill sets in different years, and making future projections a bit trickier. Jose Lopez is one of these players. The 19-year-old shortstop from Venezuela has made a name for himself and has responded well to the Mariners’ willingness to push him quickly through the system, being one of the youngest players in the league during each of his first three professional seasons. However, his performances have been anything but consistent, and the reports on him are nearly as confusing.