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Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Now that we’ve released
this season’s Top 40 Prospects list,
it is time to return to
a tradition we started last season,
to objectively evaluate our list from a year ago and see what we can learn.

As we did last season, we will compare our ranking of each player with the
ranking given to them by two premier publications, Baseball America
and John Sickels’s Minor League Scouting Notebook. Sickels ranks 50
prospects, awards "Honorable Mention" to five others, and gives a
letter grade ranking (A+ to C-) to more than 800 players.

We’re making one significant change from last season: whereas last year, we
simply reviewed our comments on each player, this season we’ll also assign
a grade to each ranking. More than a way to score the prognosticators on
how well they rank prospects, this is a way for us to determine which
prospects exceed or fail to reach expectations, and why.

The grades will be awarded on a seven-point scale, which works roughly like
this:

  1. Has massively missed projections
  2. Has significantly missed projections
  3. Has modestly missed projections
  4. Has met projections
  5. Has modestly exceeded projections
  6. Has significantly exceeded projections
  7. Has massively exceeded projections

Don’t take these grades too seriously: the point isn’t to judge each
prospect individually, but to come back at the end and see if any
conclusions can be drawn from the pool of prospects as a whole.

16. Peter Bergeron, CF, Montreal (BA: #61, Sickels: #28)

What we said last year: "Bergeron has every chance to be the
prototypical leadoff hitter for the new millennium, a Brett Butler for his
era. He bats left-handed, hits .300 every year, will work the pitcher for a
walk every other game, steals bases frequently and efficiently and covers a
lot of ground in center field…the only cause for concern is that the Expo
organization has no patience for patience; Bergeron’s walk totals dropped
from 78 to 56 in his first full season in their system."

What he did in 2000: Handed the center-field job in spring training,
Bergeron had a mildly disappointing rookie season, hitting just
.245/.320/.349 and being caught stealing in 13 of 24 attempts. His plate
discipline stabilized, as he drew 58 walks, and he stayed healthy and in
the lineup all season, playing in 148 games. Concerns about his throwing
arm–and Milton Bradley‘s overall defensive excellence–moved
Bergeron to left field in September. He did play very well in winter ball,
and should be leading off for the Expos again this season.

Take-home lesson: Bergeron’s struggles were not entirely surprising;
he was a 22-year-old with just two months of Triple-A experience. The
Expos, as mentioned, are not known for developing patient hitters, and
while guys like Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Vidro haven’t
suffered for it, their natural tendencies at the plate fit the
organization’s philosophy. Bergeron’s do not.

A less well-known but equally pervasive tendency of the Expos organization
is their kamikaze style of baserunning; the team was just 58-for-106 (55%)
in steal opportunities, the worst in baseball. Bergeron had always been at
least a break-even basestealer in the minor leagues, so the problem seems
to be less an organizational overaggressiveness and more on coaching
methods that are preaching a bad base-stealing technique.

Grade: It wasn’t a good year, but it wasn’t so bad that Bergeron
lost his starting job or diminished the expectations that he will one day
become an excellent leadoff hitter. A clear grade 3.

15. D’Angelo Jimenez, SS, New York (AL) (BA: #89, Sickels: #11)

What we said last year: "…Jimenez is an inordinately talented
player with a ridiculous lack of hype, especially given that he’s a Yankee
and therefore divinely ordained to attract media attention. You’d think a
21-year-old switch-hitting shortstop who hit .327 with 15 home runs and 26
stolen bases in Triple-A would get some attention, instead of a polite nod
as Alfonso Soriano’s teammate."

What he did in 2000: Jimenez suffered a broken neck in a terrible
car accident in the offseason. After having to be immobilized for months in
a brace, he surprised everyone by returning to play baseball in July. He
didn’t play particularly well–he hit just .233/.309/.342 in 21 games in
Triple-A–but that’s 21 more games than Nick Johnson played. He’s
expected to be at full strength this season, but the car accident is the
reason why Alfonso Soriano is getting all the press in Tampa this
month.

Take-home lesson: Wear your seat belt. Seriously. As a Kansas City
Chiefs fan, I can tell you that a wasted season is not the worst thing that
can happen to a professional athlete who gets into a car accident.

Grade: Incomplete. That may seem like a cop-out, but the
grades have only two purposes: to provide insight into the process of
prospect evaluation, and to evaluate how we did against other prospect
evaluators. Jimenez’s accident has nothing to do with his status as a
baseball player, so there’s not much we can learn from it. And while our
book goes to press in January, Baseball America doesn’t have to make
their Top 100 list until late February, which is why Jimenez showed so low
in their rankings. (Sickels made a reference to Jimenez’s accident in his
book, but ranked him even higher than we did. The accident was presumably a
last-second addition as the book went to press.)

14. Tony Armas Jr., RHP, Montreal (BA: #27, Sickels: #33)

What we said last year: "It’s not going to make anyone think
the Red Sox got hosed when they traded for Pedro Martinez, but when you
consider that Armas was the lesser of the two prospects acquired by the
Expos, you have to admit the Sox gave up some good pitchers. Armas has been
handled with kid gloves by Montreal, treatment that is likely to continue
under Felipe Alou. In the short term, this means that Armas will probably
spend 2000 as a five-inning starter, if not in the bullpen or Triple-A, but
it improves his chances of making a long-term impact."

What he did in 2000: After missing the start of the season with arm
troubles, Armas tossed a single rehab start in A-ball, touched down for
four quick starts in Triple-A (where he had never pitched before), and was
immediately shoved into the Expos rotation, where he posted a 4.36 ERA and
allowed just 74 hits in 95 innings, albeit with an unimpressive 59/50
strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s looking like the #2 starter this spring, at
least until Carl Pavano gets healthy.

Take-home lesson: The flip side of the Felipe Alou regime: the Expos
have been able to turn almost all of their pitching prospects into good, if
not always healthy, major-league starters. Javier Vazquez had even
less minor-league experience than Armas when he was called up, and while he
had to take his lumps in the majors, he’s set to break out as a legitimate
ace.

Grade: Armas did have problems staying healthy, but despite the
injury, and despite exactly five games of experience above Double-A, Armas
had a better-than-league-average ERA in his rookie season. His performance
is similar to that of Brad Penny; like Penny, Armas earns a 5.

13. Jack Cust, OF/1B, Arizona (BA: #31, Sickels: #35)

What we said last year: "Purely in terms of offense, Cust is
nearly as unstoppable as Nick Johnson. Cust’s career OBP in the minors is
.463, and he has hit for substantially more power (77 extra-base hits last
year) than Johnson has. There are several mitigating factors: Cust has
played one classification below Johnson at the same age in excellent
hitters’ parks, and he has nowhere near Johnson’s defensive value. The
Diamondbacks already have two excellent young first basemen in the major
leagues, so Cust is desperately trying to learn left field."

What he did in 2000: He was promoted to the Diamondbacks’ new digs
at El Paso, arguably the best hitters’ park in the minor leagues, but the
widely-expected pyrotechnic display sort of fizzled. Cust had a .440 OBP
and drew a career-high 117 walks in just 129 games, but after hitting .334
with 77 extra-base hits in 1999, those numbers dropped to .293 and 58, and
a piddling .526 slugging average. He spent the entire season trying to
learn to play left field, and because this is a family site we won’t
discuss how he looked out there. Still, he was a 22-year-old who posted a
.440 OBP–a career-low .440 OBP.

Take-home lesson: Cust’s bat is his only ticket to the majors, and
as lethal as that bat is, he was downgraded by the others because 1) the
Diamondbacks keep amassing players at the bottom of the defensive spectrum,
limiting his opportunity, and 2) his defense is so bad that he really
doesn’t fit on an NL team. Both of these are legitimate issues.

Our take on the first is that talent like Cust’s will find its way to the
top. Regarding the second…you’ll notice that we wrote last year that the
"Diamondbacks already have two excellent young first basemen."
Travis Lee is now in Philadelphia, and Erubiel Durazo is on
the bench so that Mark Grace can play. Cust doesn’t need a trade
because he was born to DH; he needs a trade because his current
organization thinks Mark Grace better fits the mold of a first baseman than
Erubiel Durazo.

Grade: Cust survived the jump to Double-A, and as much as his
numbers dropped, they were still awfully impressive. So impressive, in
fact, that even when you let the El Paso air out of them, his EqA was .250,
almost the same as in 1999 (.253). Concerns about his eventual position and
the general disdain with which the Diamondbacks regard their minor-league
operations gives Cust a 3, but anyone who writes him off as a
disappointment is being awfully premature.

12. Kip Wells, RHP, Chicago (AL) (BA: #14, Sickels: #7)

What we said last year: "In his first pro season–he didn’t
sign with the White Sox until well into the 1998 offseason–Wells pitched
his way to Comiskey Park, winning four games in September in the most
impressive pro debut by a Sox pitcher since Jack McDowell in 1987. His
strikeout-to-walk ratio tumbled a little as he moved from A ball to
Double-A, suggesting he wouldn’t be hurt by a few more months in the minor
leagues. Otherwise, there’s no reason to think he won’t be an above-average
starting pitcher by the end of the year."

What he did in 2000: Wells opened the season in the White Sox’s
rotation, but struggled from the get-go, and was dispatched to Triple-A on
May 8 with a 7.28 ERA. He was recalled two weeks later, but was sent back
down at the end of June with a 4-7, 6.02 record, with 46 walks and 93 hits
allowed in just 75 innings. He was recalled in September and didn’t fare
any better, finishing with a 6.02 ERA, 126 hits in 99 innings, and a 71/58
strikeout-to-walk ratio. Even in Charlotte, where he made 12 starts, Wells
gave up 67 hits and 10 home runs in 62 innings, and his K/BB ratio was
hardly more impressive at 38/27.

Take-home lesson: See the reference to Jack McDowell’s debut in
1987, when he finished his first pro season by going 3-0, 1.93 ERA in the
majors? In 1988, McDowell went just 5-10 with a 3.97 ERA back when a 3.97
ERA wasn’t very good, and he spent all of 1989 in the minors. Don’t get
fooled by a good cup of coffee. Especially by a good cup of coffee from a
starting pitcher who has zoomed up the minor-league chain so fast that no
team has had a chance to see him twice. And if that’s not warning enough,
Wells’s unimpressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 44/31 in Double-A should
have been a warning sign that, despite his great September and a great
fastball, he wasn’t ready to stick yet.

Grade: No one is giving up on Wells yet, certainly, but a year after
he was the crown jewel in an impressive tiara of White Sox pitching
prospects, he’s become an afterthought. He wasn’t just bad last season, he
was bad without any sign in his peripheral numbers that he was putting it
together. He looks like he was badly rushed now, and while he’s still in
the fight for the role of fifth starter, he hasn’t yet proven that he can
handle Triple-A hitters. A grade 2, and C.C. Sabathia
fans–that means you, Charlie–should take note.

11. Dee Brown, OF, Kansas City (BA: #11, Sickels: #6)

What we said last year: "…he won’t win any awards with his
glove, but with a bat in his hands no award is out of his reach. He hit
.308/.431/.548 in one of the toughest hitters’ parks in the minor leagues,
then hit .353/.440/.591 in Double-A. Brown, a former running-back recruit
in high school, is also a good bet for 30 to 40 stolen bases a year, which
may be just the selling point he needs to find a way into the Royals’
crowded outfield."

What he did in 2000: With no jobs available in the Royals outfield
and Mark Quinn ahead of him in the pecking order, Brown was sent to
Triple-A to start the season. Brown let the demotion get to him, and
suffered through a disappointing season, hitting .269/.324/.491 and getting
suspended for a few days at mid-season for failing to run out ground balls.
The suspension may have actually focused Brown, who played better in the
second half and who has taken advantage of the Johnny Damon trade to
vie for a spot in the Royals’ lineup this spring.

Take-home lesson: Players are not machines, and we, as analysts,
must resist the temptation to treat them as such by completely ignoring the
human element when evaluating them. Brown is a very confident hitter who
went into last spring expecting to win a starting job, even though it was
clear that none was available. It’s not surprising, when looked at in that
light, that he would try to prove that the Royals made a mistake with every
at-bat, as his strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeted from 97/79 to 112/37. The
lesson we’ll learn this year is whether, if Brown does indeed win get the
opportunity to play for the Royals on Opening Day, he can shed the bad
habits he picked up last year.

Grade: Brown’s star doesn’t shine as brightly this spring as last,
but relative to, say, Kip Wells, Brown still looks pretty good. Most
observers still have Brown on their short list of candidates to challenge
for Rookie of the Year honors. A solid grade 3.

10. Michael Cuddyer, 3B, Minnesota (BA: #18, Sickels: #10)

What we said last year: "Scott Rolen Lite. When a young hitter
shows preternatural ability to hit for average and power, draw walks and
play defense, the chances increase that at least one of those talents will
develop into a dominant one. Cuddyer improved every fact of his game while
jumping a level last season. Now that a position switch has changed him
from an error-prone shortstop to a gifted third baseman, the questions are
less about whether his weaknesses will prevent him from becoming a good
player, and more about whether his strengths will help him become a great
player."

What he did in 2000: Cuddyer caught the 24-week Prospect Flu (not to
be confused with Prospect’s Disease) that was going around the Twins’
minor-league camp, slumping from .298/.403/.470 to .263/.351/.394 while
jumping to Double-A. More alarming than the drop in his EqA from .241 to
.218 is that his defensive reputation at third base continued to progress
towards his defensive numbers, which are so bad as to suggest that another
move down the defensive spectrum is likely sooner rather than later.

Take-home lesson: We can make all the cracks we want about the
Pirates’ inability to develop hitters, but no organization did a worse job
with its hitters last season than the Twins. Clay Davenport has made
refinements in his evaluation of minor-league defense, which has made
Cuddyer’s weaknesses at third base more apparent than they were a year ago.
There is a positive sign here: just as Cuddyer’s across-the-board
excellence in 1999 made it more likely that he would develop into a star,
it also meant that he could have an all-around off-season and still post
league-average offensive numbers as a 21-year-old in Double-A.

Grade: This is a tough one to assign. There’s no doubt that Cuddyer
regressed last season, but does he deserve the Chin-Feng Chen
treatment (Grade 2), or do we cut him the same slack as Jason Romano
(Grade 3)? His defensive struggles should not be minimized, but the Twins
have not given up on him as a third baseman yet, and his 23-point drop in
EqA was smaller than both Chen’s (36 points) and Romano’s (30). By the skin
of his teeth, Cuddyer earns a 3. Just don’t expect such generosity
next year, Michael.

9. Corey Patterson, CF, Chicago (NL) (BA: #3, Sickels: #1)

What we said last year: "Patterson, the third pick in the 1998
draft, was everything the Cubs hoped he would be in his first full pro
season: he hit for average (.320) and power (20 home runs, 35 doubles) and
showed off his speed (33 stolen bases, 17 triples). He didn’t turn 20 until
August, and after playing in the Midwest League all summer, he hit .368
with a .581 slugging average in the Arizona Fall League…the only reason
Patterson ranks as low as he does is that while he’s everything the Cubs
hoped for, the Cubs don’t hope for ball four."

What he did in 2000: After tempting the Cubs to promote him directly
from low-A to the majors (sound familiar?), Patterson went to Double-A
(still skipping a level) and held his own, hitting .261 but with similar
power (22 home runs, 26 doubles) and nearly twice as many walks (45 vs. 25)
as in 1999. Just as importantly, he continued to build on his already
formidable defensive reputation. His performance was impressive enough that
a September call-up, in which he went 7-for-42 with a pair of home runs,
was fully warranted.

Take-home lesson: Clay Davenport has done some compelling research
that suggests that, other things equal, a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio is
not a negative indicator in a hitting prospect. A player who has achieved
prospect status despite, not because of, his plate selectivity has the
potential to make dramatic improvement simply by learning the strike zone.
The Cubs obviously don’t emphasize that skill very much, but they do a
better job than they did five years ago, and Patterson is coachable and
intelligent enough that he’s slowly figuring it out.

Grade: Patterson’s batting average dropped 59 points, but his
secondary skills remained completely intact, and his plate discipline
improved markedly, despite advancing from low-A ball to Double-A. Our
competitors labeled him a Top-3 prospect last season, and this year we
joined the bandwagon. Grade 5.

Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by
clicking here.

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