Tagged: Players

The Yankees reportedly interested in Patterson: Is he Womack II?

Simply put, no.

Patterson plays great D in CF. He has fantastic tools but constantly throws away AB’s due to his poor plate discipline. Pitchers would just challenge Womack. Patterson gets himself out. But his plus output at a premium defensive position, superb base running ability, and decent power, make him way, way better than Womack. Womack couldn’t even turn the double play pivot, for Christ’s sakes, and never had the tools to be a top ten prospect. Immerse Patterson in a professional lineup, with coaches diligently working on his approach at the plate, and his big time talent could pay dividends. Think about it: Has Patterson ever been in an organization that legitimately sought to improve his weaknesses? Mr. “walks clog the bases” Baker handled him terribly. And the Orioles are so totally lost that, by my eye, they don’t even have an organizational philosophy.

I have the distinct suspicion that this is all still happening. Just a feeling that Santana will be pitching for the Yankees on Opening Day, Patterson batting ninth and playing center, replacing the departed Melk man.

Hope the dude at “Save Phil Hughes” doesn’t have a heart attack.

Advertisements

Quick one regarding Tejada rumors

I could see the O’s being interested in Farnsworth, just to plug him into the closer’s role on the last year of his deal. He’d be motivated to nab another big money contract, and they’d have absolutely no commitment whatsoever… this is the kind of deal Executives love because it can be rationalized without much effort:

“ Of course… we make Farnsworth the closer, Gardner could be lighting a spark for us by 2009, at the latest, and this Horne kid is ready to slot into the rotation today! Plus, we can deal Farnsworth at the deadline for even more prospects if [wink, wink] we’ve somehow fallen out of contention! Call that old man Angelos, we have a deal to sell!”

All the while, are they receiving max value in such a deal? Eh… what do you guys think? Tejada is still a very technically sound hitter, hand/eye, approach, all that jazz. He could really be rejuvenated by New York. I could actually see this happening, though interdivision trades of such magnitude rarely occur… unless you count the epic Chris Britton for Jaret Wright midnight massacre of ’06.

The Gift and the Curse

“I like songs about drifters – books about the same.
They both seem to make me feel a little less insane.
Walked on off to another spot.
I still haven’t gotten anywhere that I want.”

-Modest Mouse, The World at Large

OK, quiet down for just a second, cease and desist with the anger and indignation. Because I love telling this story, never get tired of it.

It was an unbearably hot afternoon at Yankee Stadium. We’re playing Texas, Juan Dominguez on the mound. Alex Rodriguez is at the plate, in the midst of a phenomenal 2005 season, carrying the team.

We’d seen Jaret Wright come and go, booing him off the mound as he held his right shoulder in unbearable pain, tobacco spilling out of his mouth, agape in agony.

We’d seen Carl Pavano vanish, day to day becoming month to month, month to month becoming here to eternity.

We’d seen Kevin Brown implode. That’s that.

We’d been watching our season hang by a delicate strand, our maddeningly talented clean-up hitter preventing an irreparable rip.

And here he is. There’s an electrified current slicing through the beautiful blue sky, and we anticipate something special.

Dominguez winds and fires, Alex locks and loads.

The ball explodes off his bat, obliterated.

We stand, watch the flight, preparing to unleash a spectacular roar, tell whoever happens to be sitting next to us that yes, told you so, just had that feeling.

And than, nothing…

Silence.

We’re looking for the ball. And Alex is rounding the bases, head down.

Did it land upper deck? Was it swallowed by the atmosphere, rip through the O-Zone?

A pin could drop, for one beautiful moment. Soundless shock.

Awe transcends translation. Ever hear 57,000 people simultaneously gasp?

We’d make the playoffs in 2005, somehow, even with a cast of thousands pitching in from the rotation. We made it because Sheffield was great, because Mariano had his best single season, because Jeter was Jeter, because Cano and Wang emerged from nowhere.

But really, we made it because of Alex.

Couple months later, that moment, that afternoon at the stadium, it’s all forgotten.

And that’s why I love telling the story, now, more than ever.

So I can remind one and all, what we just lost.

………………………….

Alex Rodriguez is a fascinating study, even through the narrow view within white lines. He was a true chameleon in Pinstripes, a man of many stances. There was the slightly hunched, uncomfortable edition of 2004, which relied entirely on raw strength. There was the upright, smooth and mechanically sound phase of ‘05. There was the panicked, high kicking, long swinging ’06 model, forcing the action and choking his talent. Finally, in ‘07, there was an Alex from a distant, less burdened past, slimmed down and lightening quick, rising to almost every occasion, complex character with a compact cut.

……………….

Alex is entertainment. His transformations occurred at random. He could appear unstoppable, mashing high nineties heat with the ease of a contented artist, or unnatural, timidly scurrying after foul pops, minding the tarp twenty feet away.

The fun of following A-Rod is in his never-ending capacity to surprise.

…………………..

What to make of the memories? Where was the satisfying resolution, the justification? Had it been lost within the shuffled cards of karma?

There wouldn’t be closure between him and Jeter. They were former best friends turned fellow employees, supposed to share the city together. Nope, there wouldn’t be word that they’d buried the hatchet, hanging out again, painting the city the same color as Billy and Mickey. It wouldn’t be that simple.

There wouldn’t be a moment of connection between him and the fans. He wouldn’t walk the dugout roof, spraying champagne at the stray few refusing to depart a championship celebration. He wouldn’t drunkenly hold up a trophy certifying him as Series MVP, before telling his critics to stick it. There wouldn’t be a chant begging him to stay at a Victory Parade. It wouldn’t be that simple.

There wouldn’t be vengeance against the bitter sportswriters of America. They wouldn’t have another serving of crow to eat. How could they win? Red Sox ownership wouldn’t pay for playing it cheap. In fact, they’d appear brilliant tacticians. How could that be?

The story doesn’t seem complete, the final chapter left unwritten. There’s nothing but abject emptiness, vague indignation, agitation equaling self-righteousness, the same song dragging on and on and on and on…

…………………..

Am I angry, personally?

Nope.

Am I disappointed?

Sure.

Because, now, a piece of me exists that thinks the worst of my favorite player. It could be suppressed before, out of loyalty, but now, I can’t help but think: Think he couldn’t give a **** about being a Yankee, that’d he be a Marlin if they paid him an extra cent. Think he couldn’t care less about legacy, leaving that to his bank account. Think he isn’t mentally tough enough to be a champion. That he can’t raise his game to match the magnitude of a moment.

I can’t help but think that Alex Rodriguez can be given the Mike Tyson treatment, executed perfectly by Buster Douglas. When the bully pushes, push back. He’ll fold.

Yankee executive Gene Michael, principal architect of the contemporary Dynasty, called compilers “bully players”. They can abuse the dredges, but how do they respond when pushed?

Are they left crawling on the canvas, sorting through the shattered pieces of their invincibility, searching for their mouthpiece?

I can’t help but think that New Yorkers can sniff out the phonies, see through a façade.

I think I can’t wait, just can’t wait, to boo Alex Rodriguez.

And it’s disappointing, for **** sure.

……………….

What of Alex Rodriguez? Where does his greatness float next? What is Scott Boras instructing?

Does he go to San Francisco, where the sportswriters have already irrationally lashed out, deeming him another Barry Bonds unable to carry his team to a mythical promised land somewhere past a five run lead in Game Six of the World Series?

Does he go to Boston, where most Red Sox fans are rightfully loyal to Mike Lowell?

Does he go to Los Angeles, where a continuation of his complicated relationship with Joe Torre awaits?

What about the Angels, or a dark horse, like Toronto?

Can the drifter find a home?

Does he want to?

………………………..

OK, finish taking a skewer to this piece if you like, maybe even praise it if you’re so kind and inclined. Done? Do I have your attention?

Good.

Because I love telling this story, never get tired of it.

It’s an October night, 2005. The family and I are watching Game Five between our Yankees and the Angels, hoping for a miraculous, unexplainable campaign to continue.

There’s company over, and the drinks are flowing. We’re passing around a Giant Sombrero, our rally Sombrero we call it. My dad wears it, as the Yankees bat in the ninth, down by two, running out of outs.

Derek Jeter, who Santiago would have no problem calling great, leads off with a single.

Here comes A-Rod. He can’t buy a hit in the Series. He’s due. He has to be. My pale Irish dad is wearing a giant sombrero, and Alex Rodriguez is going to come through.

He’d done it all season. Answered the critics with every mighty swing. We’d have been dead in May without him. He’d torn through September, solidifying himself MVP.

And, here it is, Alex. Now was the time, to redeem 2004, bury the memory, wash it clean.

The room hushed. Anticipating.

He swings at the first pitch. It’s a weak swing of uncertainty, of fear. He grounds into a double play. I thought he beat the throw.

He returns to the dugout, biting his lower lip, eyes watering, eye black fading. Alex Rodriguez has essentially ended the season he saved, a gift and a curse.

I felt pity, I felt rage. I felt winter in the wings.

I took the stupid hat off my dad’s head. I needed another drink.

No magic, no more.

<span face="Times New ************** it, Alex.”

<span face="Times New ************** it.”

– Matt Waters

The Replacements: Ten possibilities for life after A-Rod

Matt’s top ten recommended third baseman to replace A-Rod:

  1. Mark Teahen- Young, can pick it at third, excellent base-runner, showed signs of being a fantastic player second half of ’06… line drive inclined left handed hitter, meet short porch… move to the outfield may have set him back. The Yankees and Royals aren’t ideal trading partners, however. Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata are practically untouchable, the Yankee organization’s first impact positional prospects in a long while. Melky is very similar to DeJesus, so the Royals won’t have a ton of interest there. Long shot.

  1. Adrian Beltre- Overpaid, but the contract length is manageable [2 Years]. Lacks plate disciple. Had best season in ’04 while playing hurt, because he couldn’t swing at everything. Flourished when forced to play within himself… but he hasn’t sure that consistent ability since. A phenomenal fielder who could blossom within Girardi’s disciplined environment. Seattle was a horrible fit for him from the start. The Mariners show no desire to work the count, and the front office doesn’t seem to care. Perhaps participating in an offense including Jeter, Abreu, Posada, and Giambi would do wonders… Hard to believe he’s still only 28. I’m a big Beltre fan. His talent would never allow him to be a total disaster, and the upside is still enormous.

  1. Hank Blalock-Banged up the last couple of years… Could argue he’s been a disappointment relative to the hype… perfect “change of scenery guy” whose value has taken a hit… Jon Daniels can be swindled.

  1. Scott Rolen- Shoulder injuries scare the **** out of me… but he’s Scott Rolen. One of the best fielding third baseman ever. Laid back demeanor, quiet fire would play well in New York. Cold war with LaRussa is truly fascinating. The two obviously despise each other, but his name almost never comes up in trade rumors… how long does it continue? With LaRussa back for the foreseeable future, he’s probably available. Last truly great year was way back in ’04, was having an excellent ’06 before wearing down in September due to aforementioned shoulder issues… could see the Yankees in pursuit, if for the name value only. Will surgery have him back to 100 percent? Mike Mussina for Scott Rolen sounds sensible… well, maybe not to Cardinal fans.

  1. Miguel Tejada- His range combined with Jeter’s would probably doom Wang to a plus 4 ERA… Ball doesn’t explode off the bat like it used to, but he’s still a technically proficient hitter, with an excellent approach, especially with men on base. Unrealistic with Angelos still calling the shots in Baltimore, though Melky is perfect for them.

  1. Garret Atkins- Low on the list because his acquisition isn’t likely… another great fielder. Ian Stewart sill lurks in the minors, but the consensus has Atkins lapping him, totally secure. Chien Ming Wang is a guy they’d love, for his ground ball tendencies in Coors Field. Wang would be a CY Yong candidate with that defense behind him, especially Tulowitzki. Rockies probably don’t want to mess with their chemistry… but a match could be there.

  1. Pedro Feliz- Advanced defensive metrics consistently tab him as one of the best fielding third baseman in baseball… a free agent, so it only costs green to grab him, a plus… Another guy who might benefit from better coaching, he SWINGS AT EVERYTHING… people are quick to dismiss the guy, but he really wouldn’t be a terrible option while Brad Suttle develops…

  1. Miguel Cabrera- I’d hate to trade the farm for him, but he IS a prodigy, and his familiarity with Girardi is comforting, especially with the well known character issues… he’d be a defensive liability, unless they move him to first and give third to this guy—

  1. Wilson Betemit- A future superstar, once upon a time… the Yankees want his flabby physique in better condition… With his atrocious swing from the right side, but dangerous cut from the left, he’s a potential platoon partner with this guy—

  1. Morgan Ensberg- I fear Kei Igawa for Morgan Ensberg makes too much sense not to happen… Kevin Towers is an Igawa fan for some bizarre reason, and an Ensberg/Betemit platoon could actually work… mashes lefties, but you figured that out by now… Pretty abysmal in every way last season. Rocket arm at third. I’d pass, but that’s just me.

Not listed:

Joe Crede: Chris Russo’s personal choice, which should be enough of a deterrent. Unfathomably awful plate discipline, his best season featured an .OBP of .323! How is that possible? On top of everything, he’s coming off back surgery. And he’ll have to be pried away in a trade. If the Yankees go after this guy, I’m cashing my check for ’08. It will severely depress me. I’d take the tag team duo of Ensberg and Betemit any day of the week. STAY AWAY!

Nothing personal, Joe…

Mike Lowell: You just know someone will step up and offer him a ridiculous four-year contract. I don’t want it to be my team.

Brandon Inge: Too streaky, strikeout prone. Great athlete, though…

Scott Brosius: They won because they had the best pitching in baseball, OK? Best rotation, best bullpen. The Bro man was a money post-season player, but he didn’t pull his weight in any regular season past ’98. Just the facts, Jack… Get over the guy. He was a championship player, deservedly loved, but let’s not go crazy and claim he’s better than A-Rod. Come on, now.

The Wildcard:

Youliesky Gourriel   Yes, he may never leave Cuba. But in the word of …Joaquin Andujar  youneverknow.

‘Till next time…

Mussina

I believe Mussina was roughed up something awful during an ugly brawl early in his Baltimore career, which, incidentally, almost bought an untimely end to Cal Ripken’s streak, when the latter got clipped below the knee amid the squalor. It was one for the history books, something out of “Gangs of New York”. After that, Mussina, whose season ended as a result, if my memory serves me correctly, counted himself out of the retaliation business. Sounds logical.

On a random note, my God, how ‘bout his 1992 season, pitching in THAT ballpark, when it truly played like a bandbox… amazing, and interesting to consider, how badly were his statistics damaged pitching in Camden Yards, and later on, relying on decidedly shaky infield defenses? Well, in fairness… Greg Maddux had his best seasons with Jeff Blauser manning shortstop… but that’s the greatest pitcher ever.

If this is final chapter for Mussina, he has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. People questioning his big game ability are simply ignorant. He had one of the best post season runs EVER in 1997, beating Randy Johnson twice in the ALDS*, before completely dominating the loaded Indians in the ALCS. The O’s had themselves were undone by Armando Benitez and a lackluster offensive performance in that Series. Mussina was sublime. In 2004, he would have defeated Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, in games one and five, if it weren’t for Tom Gordon being totally shot.

Mike Mussina is one of the best pitchers of this generation, period. 

* “ We weren’t counting on Sandy Koufax showing up for them.” – Alex Rodriguez on Mike Mussina in the ’97 playoffs.

Next: The National League

What’s the price of instant gratification? The Arizona Diamondbacks were an expansion team in 1998, propelled on a fast track by relentless manager Buck Showalter and an aggressive front office, participating in postseason play by 1999, winning an epic World Series in 2001. It was a whirlwind, a winning tradition instilled within infancy, the antithesis of Tampa Bay. But nobody stays on top forever. The team’s foundation gradually cracked, and the Diamondbacks finally kissed abyss in 2004, collecting an abysmal 51 wins.

The how and why, scenery for history, paints a picture of dubious decisions, chiefly the ill-fated Curt Schilling trade to Boston, for which the Diamondbacks received an assortment of spare parts and fungible resources, annihilating any opportunity for contention in ’04.

There would be no blank checks for the Diamondbacks now, no mass migration of high priced veterans into their stable. They would need to build.

  The game’s current exhibits quiet violence, a pleasant riptide. Mark Prior is destined for greatness, before cruel waves cascade. The Diamondbacks may have appeared entrapped in an undertow, before the horizon became visible.

There’s Conor Jackson, and Mark Grace in a broadcaster’s booth. There’s Chris Young, and Steve Finley hanging by a thread in Colorado. There’s Stephen Drew, and Tony Womack nowhere to be found.

The ocean rolls on.

Arizona welcomes it with open arms.

Who else?

Who’s next?

N.L. East:

Marlins: Sean West

Bats: L Throws: L

Starting Pitcher

If the Marlins’ brilliance in the area of talent evaluation weren’t so well established, one would be tempted to believe them blessed, by a god of serendipitous fortune. Whenever the apathy entrenched within their “fan base” appears to infect performance, a Dontrelle Willis is acquired, or a Miguel Cabrera is developed, and the Fish solider on. Meanwhile, we all wait in wonderment, for the Marlins’ to unveil another untouchable.

Sean West could be next in line. His measurable attributes would make any scout salivate. West is 6’8, and 210 easy. His full maturation incomplete, an already impressive fastball stands to gain an extra degree of velocity, in due time. West was a bit one-dimensional in College, boasting a single consistently effective pitch, the heater, eschewing secondary offerings. That in mind, his growth could be glacial, especially at advanced levels. However, West has displayed a willingness to learn, and is twirling breaking balls with regularity in the bushes, attempting to redefine his style. And while the deuces remain wild, West’s potential remains sky high, just another prodigal Marlin.

Braves: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Bats: Switch Throws: R

Catcher

Jarrod, a supremely talented switch hitting catcher, is still tabbed by many as the Braves’ top hitting prospect, despite a disappointing 2006 campaign, marred by injuries. If his ascension proceeds as previously expected, master tactician John Schuerholz will gain an invaluable trading chip, considering the dearth of catching talent of Saltalamachhia’s caliber around the baseball landscape, and Brian McCann’s rightfully fortified presence on the Braves’ roster.

Phillies: Kyle Drabek

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

Questionable character issues have dampened Drabek’s stock in many baseball circles, viewed as the top right-handed pitcher available in the ‘06 draft. Kyle is the son of former top echelon starter Doug, the Pirates’ ace in their last hour of glory. He mixes an impressive fastball and curve, but his change needs solidification. 

Drabek’s erratic persona leaves a stain of gray with regard to his future. He could completely flame out or follow in his father’s footsteps, probability equal.

Mets: Lastings Milledge

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder

Milledge wasn’t exactly a popular man toward the tail end of his truncated tenure with the Mets in 2006, closer Billy Wagner bestowing a sign above his locker advising:

“ Know your place, rook!”

Crude as the sentiment may have been, it definitely possessed legitimacy. His questionable character left many dropping Milledge beneath Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez on the Mets’ organizational prospective depth chart.

Lastings’ ability, however, will grant him a multitude of second chances. He seemed in a seizing mood during Spring Training, impressing veterans with newfound maturity, and utilizing his lightening quick wrists at the dish to grant entry on the initial 25-man roster. Lastings couldn’t find at-bats in April, however, with the suddenly surging Shawn Green blocking his path, and was relocated to New Orleans. Instead of sulking after the demotion, Milledge has hit .330, and appears well on his way to establishing a permanent “place” on the Mets. 

Nationals: Kory Casto

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder [Left]

The baseball in Washington sure is dreary. In bleak situations such as these, team ownership wishes for a phenomenal youngster to arrive on a white horse, spiriting disenchanted fans away, to a better, yet realistic, place in the future. Unfortunately for Stan Kasten and company, the Nationals have one of those already, in Ryan Zimmerman, who won’t generate a ton of buzz, purely because of an already imbedded status with the club.

Nothing about Kory Casto is particularly spectacular. He has the potential to become a solid starter, middle of the road. Casto’s professional technique plate wise sets him apart from other outfielders of his ilk, without one stand out strength. His power could blossom, festered by the aforementioned intelligent approach. He doesn’t have the speed for center or arm for right.

Somewhere, a poor soul in Washington yawns, through no fault of Kory Casto.

N.L. Central:

Reds: Homer Bailey

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

Pass on querying Homer Bailey regarding the finer points of his craft. He’ll never offer a pitching dissertation. Not the cerebral type.

Golden right arm in tow, Bailey equates simplicity with victory. Universally slotted as the number two pitching prospect in baseball, behind only King Philip of the Yankees, Homer has flat dominated at every level, and is currently lurking at the Reds’ Triple A affiliate, a step away from testing himself in the show.

His control isn’t impeccable, ability to make meaningful adjustments questionable. But Bailey’s credentials are undeniable, his day in Cincinnati soon dawning.    

Brewers: Yovani Gallardo

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

  While Homer Bailey may be the consensus number one pitching prospect in the National League, Yovani Gallardo is unanimously the most exciting. Gallardo is a strikeout machine, currently sporting a ridiculous 42-8 K/Walk ratio in Nashville. His repertoire is delightfully old school, an ebbing fastball topping out in the mid-nineties, paired with a hard breaking curve ball. There are concerns that Gallardo’s occasionally shaky mechanics could irrevocably damage his arm, which would be a terrible waste.

Cardinals: Colby Rasmus

Bats: L Throws: L

Outfielder

The heir apparent to Jim Edmonds, Colby Rasmus is the complete package, tagged with the five tool label, and deserving of every appliance.

Rasmus is the quintessential Cardinal jewel, in the vein of J.D. Drew, though his blazing speed and flowering power also harkens Grady Sizemore. The Cardinals’ outfield will be in definite flux following 2007, when Rasmus, all of 20 years old at the outset of this season, could be prepared to fill the void.

Pirates: Andrew McCutchen

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder

Jason Bay was becoming a nomad when he landed with the Pirates organization in 2003. He’d made his rounds in the under belly of the Expo, Met, and Padre organizations, traded for the likes of Lou Collier and Jason Middlebrook.

While Dave Littlefield made an excellent deal, acquiring Bay with Oliver Perez from San Diego for Brian Giles, the beleaguered Buccos could never really take credit for developing the star outfielder on their own accord.

And, upon recollection that Brian Giles was acquired from the Indians, in the mind numbingly stupid Ricardo Rincon disaster- [from the Cleveland perspective, of course. Rincon gave them one good year, Giles was an ELITE offensive player, and no, I don’t want to hear about the glut in Cleveland’s outfield, because the Indians gave a TON of playing time in the proceeding years to Wil Cordero and Russell Branyan, who Giles wipes the floor with. It was an awful trade, topped only by the SAME Indians trading Richie Sexson, for who, Bob freaking Wickman, are you kidding me? But… I digress. Somebody has to write a book about the mid-nineties Indians. It has to happen.]

-One realizes that the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t cultivated an elite outfielder since Barry Bonds, who, evidently, probably didn’t need much help.

The remedy: Andrew McCutchen. Different players invoke alternating adjectives within the minds behind the eyes watching them at work. Jose Reyes is kinetic. Jim Thome is powerful. Derek Jeter fights.

Andrew McCutchen is smooth. He never really endured a severe adjustment period upon introduction to the professional level, someone even of Jeter’s rank suffered.

He burst into Rookie League, swatting .297 and fleecing bases, playing his game unaffected. 2006 produced more eye popping output, McCutchen becoming the youngest player in Altoona Curve history. [Double A]  All Andrew did was trump his Single A output, where he simply may have felt insulted. 

It’s a matter of when, not if, with regards to McCutchen. And when his time comes, Andrew is a practical guarantee to be ready, and willing.

Astros: Hunter Pence

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder

Hunter Pence is electric, and could jolt the Astro offense, limp far too often. The multifaceted outfielder has made it nearly impossible for management to rein him from the ballpark formerly known as Enron, delivering a sterling Spring Training performance, following an outstanding Minor League season. At age 24, Pence belongs in the Major Leagues, and holding him back in Triple A could be best classified as tepid. With the big league club off to a slow start, Houston should explore a proactive course, one including Pence as a key ingredient. 

Chicago Cubs: Felix Pie

Bats: L Throws: L

Outfielder

Felix Pie is devilishly skilled, a hint of unintentional arrogance dripping from his game. After all, when Pie summons his dynamic elasticity, on the whim of pure instinct, it nearly stings to see the suffocating difficulty of baseball battled with such unassuming ease.

For the diehard citizen of Wrigley-Ville, such as the visitors and contributors to Gonfalon Cubs on Baseball Think Factory, Pie is a household name, a beacon of hope amid the searing misery that was Dusty Baker: The Final Chapter. Pie debuted after a hamstring injury claimed Alfonso Soriano in mid-April. The Cubs surprised in summoning Pie, anything but a stop gap solution. Felix has managed to stick, impressing with his fielding prowess. Despite being the only truly qualified center fielder on the roster, Felix finds himself within a flawed glut of Jim Hendry’s twisted design, costing him at-bats, and presumably, making Andere Richtingen extremely unhappy. 

N.L. West:

Los Angeles Dodgers: Andy LaRoche

Bats: R Throws: R

Third Baseman

There isn’t much damning evidence against Andy LaRoche. He has the bloodlines, his father a former Major League pitcher, his brother, potential contemporary, a slugging first baseman. The only negatives attached to LaRoche link to his athleticism, average at best.

But at the plate, Andy’s superb discipline should translate well at the professional level.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Chris Young

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder

It was always a personal opinion, before 2005 anyway, that White Sox General Manager Ken Williams received a bit of a raw deal in Michael Lewis’ groundbreaking book “Money Ball”. Williams was portrayed in an unsuspecting manner, essentially getting held up by master trader Billy Beane, trapped in his web. Kenny would remove any lingering blemish from his image after guiding the White Sox to a World Series crown in ’05, largely on the strength of his trades for Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia.

Sure, Kenny was on fire, in the winter thaw following his ultimate triumph. And it was here, precisely, where he may have made his biggest mistake.

Seeking to further bolster an already loaded pitching staff, Williams sacrificed a top outfield prospect named Chris Young, among others, in exchange for Javier Vazquez, who had struggled for the second consecutive season.

In 2006, as Young surged through the Diamondback system, and Vazquez searched for the consistency eluding him since 2003, it grew increasingly that Kenny Williams hadn’t made a particularly good trade.

And this time, he hadn’t carelessly dealt Chad Bradford.

Chris Young’s haughty perch extends beyond the Diamondback organization. He routinely places in the top five of prospect lists encompassing the talent of every franchise. He is an outstanding defensive center fielder, capable of breathtaking stabs and gravity teasing leaps, a plus arm to boot.      

At the dish, Young is imminently capable of compiling superlative averages. He has flashed power early in 2007, and should heat up in the summer months. 

Rockies: Jason Hirsh

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

The Rockies classify themselves as a Christian organization, steeped in belief, of charity and good will. This sentiment, however, went only so far, when one of their homegrown, Jason Jennings, requested a due payment of cold hard cash. Embattled Dan O’Dowd, citing Beane 14:56 [“What it profit a G.M., to lose a starter, without getting prospects back in return?”] promptly dealt Jason for a package of players including Hirsh, the Astros’ top gun on the farm. 

Hirsh had a superlative ’06 season in the Minor Leagues, but one particularly rough patch at the Show slaughtered his earned run average, and apparently lowered his stock with Houston’s hierarchy, as they willingly included him in their bid to acquire Jennings.

Jason throws a heavy fastball, which alleviates mistakes in location. All told, he’s off to very good start with the Rockies, Humidor help him, sporting a nifty 3.41 ERA in 31 innings.   

San Francisco Giants: Tim Linecum

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

A Roy Oswalt clone, Linecum’s approach to the plate is stunning in abject violence. Witness Linecum, practically unfurl himself at the hitter, legs ferociously kicking, hips recklessly twirling.

A vague first round curiosity in last year’s draft, Tim has exploded onto the Minor League scene, many forecasting a quick debut with the Giants 

There, he could join Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry, and a revived Matt Morris in the Giants’ rotation.   

Linecum’s Fresno stats are almost as scary as his wind up: 4-0, 0.29 ERA.

      

Next: American League

Sure, the bitterly biased Yankee devotee within me reveals a practical grouch when a columnist, or innocent bystander, dares compare limitless Jose Reyes to Hall of Fame lock Derek Jeter, or even, gasp, the chosen one, Alex Rodriguez.

Honestly, it’s quite frightening. It only seems a second ago that Reyes was a rumor, the mysterious jewel of the Mets’ farm system during the bygone Steve Phillips era.

Scary thought, time.

But, after initial reaction fades, it becomes impossible not to acknowledge the improvement exhibited by Reyes, or even comprehend the infinite height of his ceiling. He takes pitches now, savvy and deadly. His arm at short a cannon, careless errors are becoming a memory, maybe even necessary youthful indiscretions.

Reyes was an unknown once, a vague curiosity amid an amazing mess. Major League baseball is blessed with an obscene level of prospective talent, another wave worthy of Reyes, and Jeter before him, on the immediate horizon.

Sometimes it’s obvious. The special ones often ooze electricity, a frenetic perfection to completely unique to them.

For all the psalms preaching professionalism, style makes this game, unfiltered self-expression.

As we appreciate Albert Pujols’ dignified resolve and Carl Crawford’s smooth athleticism, it never stops us from wondering who could possibly be next, on equal footing, or even better.

A scary thought indeed.

/

Who qualifies as next? Those on the cusp of making the wildest dreams of fans, and management, blaze into reality. Hope is an equally dispersed commodity, from the top to the dredges, Anaheim to Washington.

Here’s to the future.

American League East:

Boston Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury

Outfielder

Bats: L Throws: L

Compared in many circles with former New England icon Johnny Damon, Ellsbury projects as a top flight lead off man, with an excellent eye and blistering speed. Growing increasingly restless with Coco Crisp, the impatient among Red Sox nation already pine for Jacoby’s time. Ellsbury is universally hailed as an excellent fielder, and shouldn’t have much difficulty adjusting to the wild caroms created by the crevices of Fenway’s Green Monster.

Baltimore Orioles: Brandon Erbe

Starting Pitcher

Bats: R Throws: R

Erbe is from central ace casting: Standing at 6’4, possessing filthy stuff, Brandon is a shining beacon amid a pedestrian Baltimore system. While his secondary pitches aren’t polished to Major League standards yet, these fragments could eventually form an arsenal, with time and patience. Understandably, the O’s keep Erbe on a strict pitch count, protecting his priceless right arm. Check back in 2009.

Toronto Blue Jays: Adam Lind

Designated Hitter, Corner Outfielder, First Baseman

Bats: L Throws: L

Adam Lind is a hitter, pure and simple, boasting a minor league stat line loaded with .300 averages. His somewhat stalled progress, in spite of an impressive offensive skill set, is attributable to defensive struggles. Lind’s weakness with the leather is pronounced.  The Jays didn’t even attempt to play him in the field upon a brief promotion.  Adam’s limited dimension damages his overall value, and endangers his opportunity to become an everyday player. His chance to make a major contribution in ‘07 dwindled even further after Toronto surprisingly signed Frank Thomas.

Despite these drawbacks, his talent at the plate is impossible to disregard. Even if he doesn’t find an every day niche, Adam is capable of a career similar to Matt Stairs.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Delmon Young

Outfielder

Bats: R Throws: R

Delmon Young’s bat whips through the strike zone with equal fluidity and ferocity. A long reach and superior coordination has actually damaged his plate discipline. How is this kid supposed to exercise patience when he can literally hit anything?

Young’s burden lies with hype, shouldering the pressure of being blessed before debut, expected to dominate. His maturity has shown through, impressing teammates and coaches at every corner of his still developing career.

Young nearly flushed his deserved accolades, with one horrendous decision made in the heat of rage. The date was April 26th, 2006, and Delmon had been called out on strikes early in a contest between Durham and Pawtucket. After appearing to civilly disagree with what was a truly awful call by the plate umpire, Young was ejected from the game.

Following his vacating of the batter’s box, back turned, he flippantly flipped his bat, an irresponsible move exacerbated when the projectile nailed the ump, prompting a long and justified suspension.

Hopefully, Delmon learned a lesson from this isolated incident, and will keep maturity on his mind.

New York Yankees: Phil Hughes

Starting Pitcher

Bats: R Throws: R

The top pitching prospect in Baseball, Phil Hughes is a precocious talent. So dominating was the right-hander in 2006 that he never even dealt with a bases loaded situation. Featuring a high nineties fastball and a devilishly bending curve, Hughes is reintroducing the slider, his secondary pitch in High School, into an already loaded repertoire. He’s also in the process of crafting a change-up.

The pressure on Hughes, from fans and media, could suffocate many, but a calm demeanor and cool disposition should benefit. Whether Hughes can harness the eclectic energy of New York is a question yet to be answered, but the existing framework couldn’t exude more promise.

American League Central:

Minnesota Twins: Matt Garza

Starting Pitcher

Bats: R Throws: R

Do these guys slide from an assembly line? Another hulking right-handed power pitcher, Garza is far more polished than the majority of his brethren, complementing a high-octane fastball with in an impressive array of breaking pitches.

Why a retread such as Sidney Ponson has a spot in a suspect Twins rotation instead of Garza, primed to contribute on the professional level and frustrated by his puzzling demotion, is something radically beyond my comprehension.

Chicago White Sox: Ryan Sweeny

Outfielder

Bats: L Throws: L

In his first professional season, Chicago White Sox prospect Ryan Sweeny was invited to Spring Training. A rookie in this position is apt to keep a low profile, listen, learn, and leave, maybe slightly impress along the way. Not so, for Sweeny. He was the talk of White Sox camp, exhibiting maturity well surpassing his tender age. He was so good, a picture perfect left-handed stroke swatting line drives and home runs with equal ease, that the timetable set for his ascent was rapidly accelerated.

Sweeny has mildly disappointed, since his brief role as “ The Natural” a couple of springs ago. His power hasn’t developed as originally anticipated, but he still can smoke any fastball for a solid line drive. Following the trend of White Sox bred outfield prowlers; Sweeny is an able glove man, in the vein of Brian Anderson and departed Chris Young.

With the Sox opening ’07 with a tenuous left/center combo of Scott Podsednik and Darin Erstad, Sweeny could make his mark very soon.

Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon

Third Baseman

Bats: L Throws: R

How highly thought of is Alex Gordon, already immortalized by glory starved Royal fans and press? His most common comparison is with none other than the best player in franchise history, George Brett.

After all, they both play third base, and both hit left-handed. While Gordon probably won’t accumulate batting titles, a George Brett trademark, he does project as a better power hitter, displaying perfect balance at the plate, his legs and hands synchronized to produce a swing nothing short of stunning.

Kansas City management won’t dare ask Gordon to be Brett, but they have put a degree of heat on him by forcing their most productive ’05 player, Mark Teahen, into an uncomfortable outfield arrangement. Given Gordon’s importance, the move was sensible, but he might press in an effort to justify his team’s faith.

A similar circumstance occurred years ago in San Diego, when the Padres rearranged their entire infield to accommodate Sean Burroughs, now adrift as a journeyman.

These are just mere observations, of course. Gordon is far more skilled than Burroughs at this stage of his career, and after an initial adjustment, that talent will shine through, for years and years.

Cleveland Indians: Adam Miller

Starting Pitcher

Bats: R Throws: R

Injuries are the principal deterrent which derail pitching prospects. Countless Hall of Fame talents have been led astray by a surgeon’s knife, career ruined and never recovered. In Adam Miller’s case, however, an arm injury served as a means to justify an end, in the case, the expansion and fine-tuning of an incomplete war chest.

Arm woes in ’05 forced a change in Adam Miller. His strength sapped, he was forced to deploy guile and rely on cunning, leaning on off speed pitches to maintain effectiveness. When his arm recovered, Miller had evolved from a thrower to a pitcher, and forged his status as the Indians’ top prospect.

Detroit Tigers: Cameron Maybin

Outfielder

Bats: R Throws: R

Cameron Maybin is athleticism personified. Maybin’s most distinct quality is explosiveness, found in every facet of his game. 

Maybin’s lofty statistics are even more impressive upon consideration that he played home games in a pitcher’s paradise. A .330 batting average on the road may reflect his true ability.

Maybin was right at home with the veterans during Spring Training, and could find a place on the big league roster by 2008.

American League West:

Anaheim Angels: Nick Adenhart

Starting Pitcher

Bats: R Throws: R

It’s no mystery why the Angels are a top-flight organization. Sure, they could be more aggressive on the trading market, and yeah, the Gary Matthews Jr. contract is still beyond belief, but Anaheim is adept at fortification, constantly replenishing a highly ranked system. Evidence: Nick Adenhart.

The Angels gambled, expending a late pick on Adenhart, a Tommy John patient. They guided Adenhart through recovery and rehab, rebuilding him.

And now, he projects as a number two starter. It’s not luck, people.

Seattle Mariners: Adam Jones

Outfielder

Bats: R Throws: R

The Mariners’ are beginning to acquire a reputation for rushing their prospects, throwing them into the fire without proper seasoning. Adam Jones had such an experience in ’06, summoned from Double A to start in center field.

Jones clearly wasn’t prepared, but the move did speak volumes regarding the organization’s admiration of his raw skill. Jones could develop into speed and power hybrid, a player who could contribute via various methods. He’ll start in Triple A, rough edges still requiring smoothing.

Don’t call him Pac Man.

Oakland A’s: Travis Buck

Corner Outfielder

Bats: L Throws: R

Travis Buck’s first highlight is telling: In his Major League debut, an early April game against Anaheim, Buck earnestly pursues a foul pop tumbling toward the right field seats. He reaches the warning track in foul territory and stretches into a dive, without a care to his head, which bangs into the padded wall separating the fans and field, or his body, which slams into the dirt.

He made the catch.

Getting it done is what Buck does. Though he doesn’t have the power to be considered an elite corner prospect, or the speed to make a successful transition to centerfield, Buck is a doubles machine that could blossom and fit a Paul O’Neill profile. 

Texas Rangers: Edinson Volquez

Starting Pitcher

Bats: Right Throws: Right

Volquez is beginning to truly confound the Rangers, for a wide variety of reasons. First, he shifted identities, losing the moniker Julio Reyes in the memorable summer of 2003, when immigration cracked down on green card violations. Now, he’s simply becoming an enigma, dominating in the minor leagues without showing a sliver of that prowess in the show. The Rangers could be beginning to lose faith, and young Eric Hurley is on the verge of overtaking him as the organization’s best pitching prospect, but his Minor League track record, albeit against inferior competition, is too consistently outstanding to ignore. They hope a light goes off in the artist formerly known as Julio Reyes, before he is forgotten by any name.