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TOP 40 PROSPECTS


Where's Aubrey Huff? Is he off the list because Tampa Bay hasn't moved
Vinny Castilla yet?

-- Kenneth Shankland

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.

–Rany Jazayerli


How can Josh Beckett not be one of the top 40 prospects in baseball?

--Bob Scharnberger

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.

–Rany Jazayerli


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.

--JC

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.

–Rany Jazayerli


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.

--RM

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.

–Jeff Bower


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?

--MM

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.

–Chris Kahrl


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.

--GH

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.

–Joe Sheehan


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?

--Andrew Ritchie

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.

–Chris Kahrl


Where the hell is Juan Cruz?

--SK

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.

–Chris Kahrl

Corey Patterson is the number-three prospect? Wow, you don't need to
use a teaser like that to get me to buy your book, but I look forward to
reading why you rate him so highly.

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.

--David Geiser

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.

–Chris Kahrl

Overall, I enjoyed your Top 40 picks, and especially the thought
process behind creating the list. However, in reference to Brian Lawrence
(a very surprising choice, in light of his limited upside), David Pease
said:

"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.

--GY

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.

–Dave Pease


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.

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