This is part two of a six-part series in which I’ll look at
the State Of The System for all 30 major league teams. I’ll talk about what’s
working, what’s not, and identify a few names to look out for (or beware of)
- What’s Working: A lot more than what used to be. In
2003, the Orioles took Nick Markakis with the No. 7 overall pick, and surprised
those listening to the draft when they announced him as an outfielder. Markakis
was a two-way star at Young Harris JC in Georgia, and most teams preferred his
power stuff on the mound as a lefthander. At this point, it looks like the
Orioles made a smart decision. 2002 first-round pick Adam Loewen has gone
from possible bust to somebody to be excited about again, and the Orioles should
be commended for their patience with him. After a miserable 2004 draft that
included the debacle surrounding unsigned first-round pick Wade Townsend, the
2005 draft class has the potential to be a monster. Outfielder Nolan Reimold had a late-season slump at Bowling Green (when the upper-level scouts were
coming to see him), and the Orioles were able to steal him in the second round.
First-round pick Brandon Snyder was impressive in his pro debut, supplemental
first-rounder Garrett Olson was absolutely sparkling, and third round pick
Brandon Erbe has the potential to be a bigger steal than Reimold.
- What’s Not Working: Snyder is the only decent
non-outfield position prospect in the entire system, and whether he’s a catcher
or a third baseman in the end is yet to be determined. For a team that needs
help immediately, the overwhelming majority of their best talent is at least
two years away.
- 2006 Rookies: Not officially a rookie, righthander
Chris Ray steps into the closer role, and while he’s a step down from B.J.
Ryan, he has the skills to perform admirably. Markakis could enter the lineup
in the second half with a strong start at Triple-A.
- I Like Him Better Than Most: With all the disclaimers
about teenage pitchers in full effect, I’m still very high on Erbe, who
struck out 57 in 30 innings in his pro debut, despite not turning 18 until
Christmas day. He has a nearly perfect pitching body, and already touches 98
mph–so while there’s still so much that can go wrong between now and the time
Erbe would be ready for the majors, all the planets seem to be aligned as we enter the season.
- Don’t Believe The Hype: I have no problem with the
argument that Markakis is a very good prospect and the best in the Baltimore system. However, other than his ability to hit for average, none of his other
numbers pops out at you. His power is somewhat projectable but currently
middling, he draws a decent but not overwhelming amount of walks, and he’s a
good runner, but not any sort of danger on the basepaths. To put him in the
elite class is still doing a lot of dreaming.
Boston Red Sox
- What’s Working: The Red Sox have done a wonderful job
lately in developing quality pitching. Both Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester
had breakout seasons, while the almost equally impressive Anibal Sanchez was
used in the Josh Beckett trade. Like the Orioles, Boston’s 2005 draft has
impact potential. Getting outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and closer Craig Hansen
with back-to-back picks late in the first round was a coup, and they followed
that up with a 3-for-3 performance in their trio of supplemental first-round
picks, getting polished college infielder Jed Lowrie and a pair of high-ceiling
arms in Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden.
- What’s Not Working: The Red Sox are anything but
stocked when it comes to position players, particularly when it comes to
infielders and catchers. Jason Varitek is one of the best catchers around, but
the inclusion of Kelly Shoppach in the Coco Crisp deal is a little puzzling.
Varitek, 34, is nearly at the scary age for catchers, and there no obvious
candidate to step in should something go wrong.
- 2006 Rookies: Papelbon will likely have to wait until
2007 for a rotation slot, but should give the team 80-100 good innings in the
long relief/spot starter role. Hansen reached the majors after just 13 minor
league innings, and should find his way back into the bullpen quickly after
beginning the season at Triple-A. Adam Stern projects as a solid fourth
outfielder, and could immediately step into that role.
- I Like Him Better Than Most: Bowden is a lot like Nolan Reimold, in that many high-level scouts
didn’t see him at his best, and he fell to the 47th overall pick. It’s
easy to find high school pitchers who can throw hard, but Bowden adds what
is already a plus breaking pitch and very good control.
- Don’t Believe The Hype: OK. Here we go. Dustin
Pedroia. There, I said it. I’m not saying Pedroia is not good–he’s plenty good, but I see no evidence on any level (other than PECOTA), that he’ll be a
star. I have upgraded my opinion on him in the past year to the point where I
think he could be a major league starter on a first-division team, but I’m
ending my enthusiasm there. Much of PECOTA’s projections revolve around comps,
and Pedroia’s list includes some interesting names. No. 1 is Gary Sheffield,
the year before he exploded in San Diego. No. 3 is Marcus Giles two years
before a huge season in Atlanta. No. 4 is Adrian Beltre two years away from his
breakout 2004 campaign that netted him $64 million from Seattle. All of these
players had lots of projection in them based on their tools, and that’s
something PECOTA can’t know Pedroia lacks. So what I’m left wondering is, when less
than 12 months from now, Pedroia is the same as he is now (and again, a
pretty nice second baseman), and those current comparables at the top of
the list are no longer comparable, what will the card look like then?
New York Yankees
- What’s Working: This is a system on its way up, but
it’s going to require patience. Because the Yankees are always good at the
major league level, they never get a high draft pick, and their annual forays
into the free agent market leave them with even fewer picks. Compounding the
problem was that until 2003, the Yankees did a horrible job with what few picks
they did have. The 2003 and 2004 drafts showed a little more promise, and new
scouting director Damon Oppenheimer had a solid 2005 set of selections–despite
Big George’s insistence that the club hand out no major league deals to
draftees, preventing them from selecting Craig Hansen in the first round. It
will be interesting to see if what the Yankees did with Austin Jackson will be
the beginning of a trend. Jackson entered the draft with possible first-round
talent, but also a perceived stronger desire to play basketball, where he was
one of the top point guards in the country with a full ride to Georgia Tech
lined up. So teams shied away from Jackson, but the Yankees took him in the 8th
round and lured him away from hoops with $800,000. Just like the free-agent
market, the Yankees are uniquely able to draft and get under contract some of
the more difficult signability players in any year, and it’s an ability that
they should take advantage of more often. Beyond the improved drafting, a
dramatic shift in international scouting is also paying dividends. Always one
of the bigger spenders in Latin America, the Yankees have gone away from
getting involved with the big names (like Wily Mo Pena for $2.44 millioin in
1999), and instead spreading a number of six-figure bonuses around to a number
of talents, which has stocked the low levels with some exciting high-ceiling
talents like outfielder Jose Tabata and shortstop Eduardo Nunez. As you can see
by the size of this paragraph, even at the minor league level, things are
always interesting in Yankee-land.
- What’s Not Working: Despite the unquestionable uptick
in the system’s overall talent pool, there’s still plenty to make up for from
the moribund years early in the decade. Nearly all of the system’s top players
have yet to play above the Low-A level, and the upper levels are filled with
minor league veterans and fringe prospects.
- 2006 Rookies: None, zero, nada, nunca, zilch. If
there is a player in the current Yankees system getting significant playing
time with the big league club this year, that means that something, somewhere has
gone horribly wrong.
- I Like Him Better Than Most: Tabata is
potentially one of the most exciting prospects in baseball–his distance from
the major leagues is the only negative thing one can say about him. At
the same age of most American high school sophomore and juniors, Tabata hit
.314 in the Gulf Coast League, walked more than he struck out, led the league
with 22 stolen bases, and showed big-time power potential. He’ll play in a
full-season league this year, and he doesn’t turn 18 until August 12. His
ceiling is as high, if not higher, than any low-level prospect in the game, but
he so far from it there’s just so much that can go wrong.
- Don’t Believe The Hype: Eric Duncan may have won MVP
honors in the Arizona Fall League, but the AFL record book is littered with
names like Steve Pegues and Orlando Miller. So do you want to base your
excitement off those six weeks, or his 316 minor league games in which he’s hit
.258 with just OK power and a ton of whiffs? Add in the fact that he’s not
really a third baseman and he is moving to first, and I’ll take a pass.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
- What’s Working: The Devil Rays have drafted very well
in recent years, and the strength of their system gives Devil Rays
fans plenty of reason for optimism. Delmon Young and B.J. Upton
(stuck in prospect limbo) are two of the most valuable young commodities in the
game, and the Rays have some good pitching prospects who are close to being
ready (Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel), as well as a nice group of young arms who have impressed in their early careers–especially righty Wade Davis, who
led the New York-Penn League in strikeouts last year.
- What’s Not Working: The Devil Rays astute drafting
could take a hit without the guidance of former special assistant Tim Wilkin,
one of the best scouting minds in the business, who took his services to the
Cubs in what may be the top non-signing of the year. Other than
projectable shortstop Reid Brignac, the system is extremely weak up the middle.
- 2006 Rookies: At this point, if you’re the Devil Rays, leaving Young
and Upton in the minors is a waste of their time and yours, even though there
are no obvious positions for them to step in and play. However, does anyone doubt
even with 40 errors, would be more valuable overall at shortstop than Julio
Lugo? Doesn’t Aubrey Huff at first base and Delmon in right field make more
sense than giving Travis Lee another full-time job when he hasn’t deserved one
was still putting out records?
- I Like Him Better Than Most: I’m still willing to put
chips down on the future of Elijah Dukes. When scouts talk about him, you can
hear them drooling over the phone at his potential, and despite a solid
.287/.355/.478 season at Double-A, he’s still very far from what he can become.
The problem is makeup. Dukes comes from a highly-troubled childhood in
inner-city Tampa, has had a number of brushes with the law and a fair share of
ejections and suspensions. The Devil Rays have worked very hard with him on the
off-the-field issues, including a pair of mandatory anger-management classes. Makeup
is a very funny thing, and as a single word it tries to incorporate so many
subjective things about a player’s personality that may or may not have an
effect on the ability of that player to succeed as a professional. Despite all the distractions, one aspect of Dukes’ makeup is good–he works hard at becoming a better baseball player, and one would hope that with those tools, he could be successful enough to easily distance himself from his past.”
- Don’t Believe The Hype: Had he been draft-eligible
after an incredible sophomore season at Rice, Niemann might have been the
No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. But since then, he’s had a minor elbow surgery
his final year of college, pitched just 31 innings since signing, and had
(again minor) shoulder surgery last October. Mix in the ugly recent track record
of Rice pitchers in the pros, and it’s a scary combination.
Toronto Blue Jays
- What’s Working: The Blue Jays have a nice supply of
quality arms who are close to being ready to contribute. Righthander Dustin
McGowan is all the way back from Tommy John surgery, 2004 first-round pick
David Purcey has 174 strikeouts in 149 minor league innings, and righty Casey
Janssen went 13-4, 2.18 in his full-season debut while reaching Double-A.
- What’s Not Working: It’s a pretty weak system and I
think every bit of blame goes to the way the Blue Jays draft. The draft is
about getting impact players in your system, and Toronto just plays it way too
safe. In 2005, with the sixth overall pick, the Blue Jays selected the best
college lefty in the draft, Ricky Romero. While it’s very easy to project
Romero as a No. 3 or 4 starter who can get there in quick fashion, it’s very
difficult to project him as anything more. When you have the sixth pick in the draft,
and players having star potential (including college ones like Troy Tulowitzki) are still on
the board, it makes little sense to go the safe route. The same goes for past
No. 1 picks like Aaron Hill (2003) and Russ Adams (2002). All are very solid
players, but have little impact potential. The Blue Jays make picks like this
continuously past the first round as well, leaving a weird system that has as
many prospects as any in baseball who could get to the big leagues, but far
fewer prospects than most one can project as starring there.
- 2006 Rookies: Not a whole lot here. Catcher Guillermo
Quiroz is now two injury-plagued seasons away from his 2003 breakout campaign,
but could work his way into the catching rotation. McGowan will start the year
in Triple-A, but he’s first on the speed dial should the big league club need
- I Like Him Better Than Most: Taiwanese import lefty
Chi-Hung Cheng showed flashes of brilliance at times in his full season debut
at Low Class A Lansing, and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 11 of his last
16 starts. He also led the league in walks due more to his inability to throw
any pitch straight than any sort of standard command problems. Just 20 years
old, he could take off with a little more fastball and a few minor adjustments.
- Don’t Believe The Hype: Righthander Brandon League
was given a big league job last year, and I just don’t understand why. The only
positive thing about him is that he can force radar guns to use that rarely
seen third digit. So what do we have? We have a pitcher with amazing velocity.
The problem is, we also have a track record of 400+ minor league innings
that mean very little when it comes to League’s performance. This is one of those
disconnect players. He throws 100+ mph, but he’s never struck out more than a
batter per inning at any level. At some point, you have to stop getting
excited about the tool if it’s not generating any results.