While there was significant agreement between our Top 40 Prospects list of
a year ago and the Top Prospect lists made out by John Sickels and
Baseball America, there was some discord as well. Both Sickels and
BA had 14 players in their own Top 40 that did not make our list. Seven of
those players were found on each list, making for a total of 21 different
players that were felt to merit Top 40 consideration by at least one other
publication, but who we felt did not belong on our list. We’ll cover those
players in brief now.
John Patterson, RHP, Arizona (BA: #10, Sickels: #24)
You know how we’re fond of saying "there is no such thing as a
pitching prospect?" John Patterson is why. Patterson’s
stuff–particularly his curveball–was so impressive that Baseball
America ranked him in their top 10, despite numbers that were
superficially unimpressive. He had posted a 4.77 ERA at El Paso in 1999,
but when you factor in the park and his fine 117/42 strikeout-to-walk
ratio, it’s clear that he did pitch well. His 7.04 ERA after a promotion to
Triple-A was not nearly as impressive, though, and he had a history of
elbow soreness, which in a curveball pitcher concerned us enough to limit
him to an Honorable Mention.
Patterson showed up in the spring of 2000 without his fastball, and it was
only after he had made three appearances for Tucson that he was finally
diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament. He’s expected back sometime this year
from Tommy John surgery. An easy grade 1.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Tampa Bay (BA: #13, Sickels: #32)
Josh Hamilton also received an Honorable Mention; while we liked his
pedigree and his talent, it was hard to get too excited about a player deep
in the low minors with plate discipline (13 walks, 43 strikeouts in rookie
ball) as bad as his. Hamilton moved up to low-A ball and continued to
develop as a hitter, and his talent seduced the Devil Rays enough that they
were briefly tempted to bring him all the way to Tampa Bay this spring.
Cooler heads finally prevailed,
as Hamilton clearly needs another year, if not more,
in the minors. He’s on the right track. Grade 5.
Wilfredo Rodriguez, LHP, Houston (BA: #25, Sickels: #19)
See Patterson, John. We liked Wilfredo Rodriguez a lot; we thought he was
the best pitching prospect in a loaded Astros system, and gave him
Honorable Mention status. But it takes a truly exceptional talent to make
our Top 40 list as a pitcher in A ball.
Rodriguez battled assorted injuries in 2000 and walked 82 men in 111
innings, posting ERAs of 4.75 and 5.77 in A ball and Double-A. He did
advance to Double-A, and he could certainly rebound if he’s healthy this
year. For his performance last year, though, he gets a grade 2.
A.J. Burnett, RHP, Florida (BA: #20, Sickels: #37)
A.J. Burnett was a hot prospect in 1998, blowing through the low minors. In
1999, he went to Double-A and struggled for most of the season, posting a
5.52 ERA, although his struggles were said to be more mental and physical.
He got an August promotion to Florida anyway and responded with a 4-2
record and a 3.48 ERA, enough to get him back on two out of three prospect
lists. Our general suspicion of pitching prospects, and concerns that his
struggles in Double-A might not be a one-time occurrence, kept him off our
Burnett tore a ligament in his thumb in spring training and missed half of
the 2000 season, but was back in Florida after just three rehab starts and
posted a 4.79 ERA with reasonable peripherals. Having proven that his 1999
performance in the majors was not a fluke, Burnett is expected to be a key
part of the Marlins rebuilt young rotation, and earns a grade 5.
Drew Henson, 3B, New York (AL) (BA: #24, Sickels: #40)
There was no denying his talent; Drew Henson hit .280/.345/.480 as a
19-year-old in the Florida State League, which would be impressive for
anyone, let alone a guy playing baseball during his summer vacation. But
there’s the rub: baseball was only a part-time job for Henson, and we have
too much respect for the skills needed to play baseball at the major-league
level to have given Henson more than Honorable Mention status.
Henson moved up to Double-A in 2000 and hit .287/.347/.439 for Norwich, but
his plate discipline stagnated and he hit just .172/.221/.344 in 16 games
for Chattanooga (Double-A) after he was traded to the Reds. His status at
the end of last season was the same as the year before: great talent, but
questionable future until he commits full time. That’s a grade 4,
but now that he has made that commitment, his grade for next year should be
a lot higher.
Abraham Nunez, OF, Florida (BA: #30, Sickels: #29)
Abraham Nunez, who was just the second-best player the Marlins got for Matt
Mantei, showed prodigious five-tool talents as a 19-year-old in 1999,
hitting .273/.378/.492 with 22 home runs, 86 walks, and 40 steals. Of
course, he did all that at High Desert, one of the best hitters’ parks in
the minors, which was enough to keep him off of our list.
He had surgery on his elbow in the off-season, which forced the Marlins to
DH him all year even though he was previously an outstanding right fielder,
and he bounced between Double-A and A ball, depending on which affiliate
was facing an AL team and therefore was using the DH. The results were
contradictory: just .194/.376/.262 in A ball, but .276/.392/.462 in
Double-A. He’s supposed to be at full health this season, and his
performance at Double-A despite the arm problems and his travel schedule
earns him a grade 3.
Francisco Cordero, RHRP, Texas (BA: #29, Sickels: #36)
As much respect as we hold for the typical pitching prospect, how much
respect do you think we’d give a relief prospect? We’ve been doing our Top
40 list for three years and 120 prospects now, and we have yet to place a
reliever on the list. The last minor-league reliever who deserved Top 40
status was probably Armando Benitez, who was last seen burning through the
minor leagues in 1993-94.
Francisco Cordero had an excellent season in Double-A in 1999 (1.38 ERA, 35
hits, 22 walks, and 58 strikeouts in 52 innings), but he had already missed
most of 1998 with a stress fracture in his arm, which was all the excuse we
needed. He made the Rangers’ bullpen last season, but in retrospect he
probably shouldn’t have, as he was terrible (5.35 ERA, 87 hits, 48 walks,
49 strikeouts in 77 innings). Now his back is acting up on him. Grade
Mark Mulder, LHP, Oakland (BA: #12)
This was a heck of a reach for Baseball America, even conceding that
we gave Mark Mulder Honorable Mention status. Mulder isn’t your standard
flame-throwing young pitcher who might deserve top prospect status despite
a relative lack of results. He’s a polished college left-hander who gave up
152 hits in 129 innings in his first pro season. That’s actually a pretty
impressive debut, given that it occurred in the Pacific Coast League.
In 2000, Mulder spent almost the entire season in the A’s rotation, making
27 starts before he had back woes, and went 9-10, 5.44, with 191 hits
allowed in 154 innings, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of just 88 to 69. I
may be in the minority here, but I’m skeptical that Mulder is bound for
immediate greatness, and I’m reluctant to give him more than a grade 4.
Hee Seop Choi, 1B, Chicago (NL) (Sickels: #18)
This was a great pick by Sickels, who zeroed in on Hee Seop Choi after he
hit .321/.422/.610 in the Midwest League as a 20-year-old. Choi played at
two levels in 2000 and excelled at both, hitting .296/.369/.533 in the
Florida State League and then bumping his numbers up to .303/.419/.623 in
his first exposure to Double-A. The Cubs were impressed enough to let Mark
Grace leave, and we’re impressed enough to give Choi a grade 6.
Josh Beckett, RHP, Florida (BA: #19)
Josh Beckett hadn’t even made his pro debut a season ago, so for us to have
given him any kind of rating would have been premature. That’s the kind of
player that Baseball America evaluates best, of course, and Beckett
certainly lived up to the hype when he was able to pitch. He posted a 2.12
ERA and had more strikeouts (61) than baserunners allowed (60) in just 12
starts, as he spent time on the DL twice with tendinitis. He’s still a
couple of years away, but despite the arm troubles, he showed enough to get
a grade 4.
Eric Munson, 1B, Detroit (BA: #23)
Eric Munson’s chance of making our Top 40 died the instant he was moved to
first base. His pro debut in 1999 (.266/.378/.504) was nice, but coming in
low-A ball, it was a little underwhelming. Munson was promoted to Double-A
in 2000, but hit just .252/.348/.455 and the whispers have already started
in Detroit that he was a blown draft pick. He’s just 23, and his grasp of
secondary skills means that he should still be in line to replace Tony
Clark next year, but for now he doesn’t deserve anything higher than a
Jesus Colome, RHRP, Oakland (Sickels: #26)
Our "no relievers" rule doesn’t technically apply to Jesus
Colome, who has been used mostly as a starter in the minors despite the
fact that he projects as a future closer. His performance in 1999 (129
innings, 125 hits, 60 walks, 127 strikeouts, 3.36 ERA), while impressive,
wasn’t enough to merit Top 40 consideration. His stuff–particularly that
triple-digit fastball of his–was enough for Sickels to rank him.
Colome handled Double-A so well (110 IP, 99 H, 50 BB, 95 K, 3.59 ERA at
Midland) that most A’s fans think that Billy Beane made a rare mistake in
surrendering him for Jim Mecir. Grade 5.
Ramon Hernandez, C, Oakland (Sickels: #27)
While Baseball America, like us, ties the eligibility for their list
to a player’s rookie status, John Sickels will allow a player up to 50
games of major-league experience (or 10 starts/50 innings for pitchers).
Ramon Hernandez was thus only eligible for his list, so he’s not a real
point of comparison. If he was, he probably would earn a grade 4, as
he hit .241/.311/.387 and cemented himself as the A’s catcher for at least
the near future.
Mike Lamb, 3B, Texas (Sickels: #31)
Mike Lamb had a great season in 1999, hitting .324/.386/.551 with 51
doubles for Tulsa, but he turned 24 during the season, making him a little
too old, relative to his level, for our tastes. He made the jump to the
majors in 2000 and was the Rangers’ starting third baseman all year, but
hit just .278/.328/.373 and lost his job to Ken Caminiti after the season.
Alex Escobar, OF, New York (NL) (BA: #34)
Alex Escobar was our #3 prospect two years ago, so we certainly liked him,
but he played in all of three games in 1999 and there were simply too many
other good prospects without the health questions for us to rank him.
Baseball America believed in his tools and refused to give up on
him, and Escobar returned with a vengeance, jumping to Double-A and hitting
.288/.375/.487 while playing in 122 games. Grade 6.
Aaron Myette, RHP, Chicago (AL) (Sickels: #34)
Aaron Myette looked like a pretty good pitching prospect a year ago, but
his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 135/77 in Double-A wasn’t terribly
impressive. He made the jump to Triple-A in 2000 and was just fair (112
innings, 103 hits, 56 walks, 85 strikeouts, 4.35 ERA), which meant that he
was passed by about a dozen other White Sox pitchers. Myette was traded to
Texas in the Royce Clayton deal. Grade 3.
Felipe Lopez, SS, Toronto (BA: #38)
A pure tools player who was still in low-A ball in 1999, Felipe Lopez has
dazzling potential but is still very raw, the kind of player that
Baseball America specializes in covering. Lopez jumped a level to
Double-A last season and held his own, hitting .257/.303/.371, but was just
12-for-23 in steals and his strikeout-to-walk ratio deteriorated from
157/61 to 110/31. He doesn’t turn 21 until next month, so he has plenty of
time to work on his polish; right now he looks like a dead ringer for the
guy whose job he’ll one day challenge for, Alex Gonzalez. Grade 4.
Luis Rivera, RHP, Atlanta (Sickels: #38)
Another live arm in the low minors, Luis Rivera looked like a potential
closer a year ago, and even made the Braves’ roster straight out of A ball
in April. He pitched just seven innings for them before arm woes surfaced
and ruined the rest of his season.
He was traded to the Orioles for B.J. Surhoff at the trading deadline, and
made one appearance in Baltimore, but pitched just 42 innings all year and
just had shoulder surgery that should sideline him until 2002. He gets a
grade 2 only because he did go from A ball to the majors in one
year, even if his arm caved in shortly thereafter.
Danys Baez, RHP, Cleveland (BA: #39)
Danys Baez hadn’t even thrown a professional pitch a year ago at this time
(unless you count Communist labor as a "profession") but had
still received $14.5 million from the Indians, so he obviously had
impressed the scouts.
Baez showed he was no El Duque, though, hardly dominating A ball (4.71 ERA)
in nine starts before faring better in Double-A (3.68 ERA, 98 hits, 32
walks, 77 strikeouts in 103 innings). Still, it was a letdown for fans who
had been told that he would be in the Indians’ rotation by mid-season.
This spring, he’s been told his future isn’t in the rotation at all, as
he’ll be groomed to join the Indians’ bullpen later this year. Grade
3, and that’s being charitable.
Junior Guerrero, RHP, Kansas City (Sickels: #39)
We had given Junior Guerrero an Honorable Mention because of his pretty
numbers in the low minors (including 181 strikeouts in 155 innings), and
because, okay, I’ll admit it, he pitches in the Royals’ system. But Sickels
ranked him in his Top 40 without the same bias, so I do feel somewhat
In any case, Guerrero had a pretty awful season in Double-A (5.70 ERA,
79/69 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and was moved to the bullpen late in the
year in the hopes of rejuvenating his fastball. Grade 2.
Chris George, LHP, Kansas City (BA: #40)
While Guerrero proved to be overhyped, his teammate Chris George was the
one who deserved the accolades. I know that David Rawnsley is a big fan of
George, though I’m unsure how much input he had in the decision to rank
George this high. It was a shrewd decision, regardless; George zipped
through Double-A in four months before struggling with his control a little
in Triple-A, and made a cameo appearance on the Olympic Team. He’s clearly
the Royals’ best pitching prospect at this point. Grade 5.
In our next–and final–installment, we’ll break it all down, compare how
everyone did, and sift through the numbers to see if there’s anything more
we can learn.
Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by
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