Tagged: Minor Leagues

The Pirates Big Three at Triple-A – Boom Or Bust?

Followingthe Twins Triple-A International League trio turned duo with the promotion of
Scott Baker, the Pirates have three rotation members at their IL affiliate that
have been garnering attention of late. But unlike the Twins, these three are a
little less prolific in their current prospect status, and through a series of
failures and or misfortunes are largely considered busts. It’s unusual to have
this much first round failure, improbable that all three are having success in
a comeback attempt at the same time, same place. I think it’s safe to say the
International League has been over run with pitching prospects of all statuses this
season, and they’ve clearly had their way. Is the Triple-A Indianapolis trio
really on their way to major league prominence? Let’s take a look.

 

Sean Burnett-
The 19th overall pick in the 200 draft out of high school is a control-type
left-hander that showed signs of becoming a solid starter without being overly
dominant, but ran into trouble — both performance and injury — at the major league
level in 2004, eventually succumbing to Tommy John surgery in April, 2005. His
return has not been pretty, a 46/46 K:BB ratio in 120 and a third Triple-A innings
in 2006, such is the rehab process for a control pitcher.

 

This
season he’s 4-3 in nine starts with a 3.81 ERA but second in the league in
walks with another mediocre 21/27 K:BB ratio. He’s also been pitching behind in
the count far too often and not locating his curveball the net result is being
hit at a .303 pace. A pitcher of his type and class can expect a 2-3 year rehab
working rehab, control being the last thing to work its way back from the
surgery, the issue finite for him without a high velocity fastball.

 
He’s still
only 24, not too late to revive his career. Beyond the issues of injury which I’ve
discussed often in the past with Will Carroll as it pertains to the Pirates’
pitching prospects, Burnett probably never did have the ceiling that warranted
the first round selection. He could still be a back-end to mid-rotation type,
but it won’t be for a year or two, if ever.


 John VanBenschoten – The eighth overall pick in 2001
out of Kent State is a right-handed power pitcher. He was also an NCAA hitter of notoriety
and I thought on draft day he should have been developed as a position player;
the Bucs obviously disagreed. Coming up, he would dominate for stretches but his
overall strikeout-per-nine was weak for his class and pedigree. Now on the back
end of two shoulder surgeries with five starts the past two years coming into
this season he needs something and fast; now 27, the result of an overage college
pitcher and the injury issue.

He’s 3-3 in eight starts with one of the better
Triple-A International League ERA’s at 2.47, but a 31/17 K:BB ratio in 43 and two-third
innings and overall 1.24 WHIP is proof not everything is right in his world. Ahead
in the count he’s brutal on hitters, but he continues to pitch behind too often.
 He’s
never shown the ability to finish the high-minor hitter off at an acceptable rate
for his genre and first-round pedigree. There’s still room for improvement;
despite his age he’s had but 90 professional starts coming into the year. But
with shaky control and a fastball that’s lost a little zip as a result of
injury, it’s difficult to see him reaching the promise he once had. He’s still
a candidate for call up this year, still with at least a measurable chance for
a career.


Bryan
Bullington –   The first overall pick in 2002 — over B.J.
Upton -– missed all of 2006 due to labrum surgery. The decision to take the Ball State product first was a curious one; the revisionist view now adds credibility to the many scouts who claimed he was
potentially no more than a second starter type prior to the draft. That being
said, he is a power pitcher but one who hadn’t worked at 95 mph since his college
days.

 
This
season, his second look at Triple-A, first since the shoulder surgery, has begun
well posting an IL leaderboard 6-2 in nine starts with a 2.96 ERA, noting his
control has been less than decent posting a 30/23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54
and two-third innings, the numbers inflated with two bad  starts in his last three outings.

 
Reports are
his velocity has returned to 93 mph, but his control has been lacking, the
results having him hit at a .247 clip and not controlling the game they way the
Pirates would like. He’s been the most consistent of the three over his minor
league career, but the descriptors solid, decent, and average do not infer ace or
forecast a great career. He to will be 27 this year, and needs to have continued
success and developing control over this season before I’ll get onboard with reaching
his potential as a No.2.

 
Both the
injury history and the rationale for making these three pitchers first round
picks are curious; something I’ve questioned for years. Who gets blamed for
this three-year disaster? Is it scouting, former General Manager Cam Bonifay, David
Littlefield, the minor league development team, or just the assistant to the God of baseball responsible for injury?

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Elijah Dukes

Old News – The Devil Rays assigned Delmon Young and B.J. Upton to Triple-A on Thursday while Elijah Dukes was sent to their minor league camp. All three moves were expected, although I did notice Delmon was the number one drop from the Yahoo! public leagues in recent days. Apparently not everyone was aware, as the drop was reported in the 1,000s causing me to wonder why when those leagues tend to be on the shallow side.

Both prospects sent to Triple-A are expected to play in the majors this season; Upton will continue to work on his defense and Young could use the time to gain some momentum. It’s a complicated outfield situation at present and the club will need to free up playing time for him by making a move or two.

Elijah Dukes

Dukes is a player I really like and a look around suggests I’m not the only one. I too have made the inevitable comparison to Milton Bradley for the anger, or dare I say it, rage management issue, but there’s also athletic and statistical similarities that bear noting.

Dukes versus Bradley

Statistics through the first three minor league seasons ending in Double-A at the same age (21).

 

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Bradley

320

1225

224

366

73

16

28

178

60

40

120

213

0.298

0.362

0.453

0.815

Duke

338

1203

194

339

66

13

35

175

82

28

134

310

0.282

0.362

0.446

0.808

As you can see, there’s a striking similarity statistically, and the slugging numbers (.453,.446 resectively with both OBP’s at .362 ) in both cases are understated as the power is just beginning to emerge; the Double-A slugging was better than early in the career (.526 and .478 in third year).  The scouting report on Dukes is eerily similar to that of Bradley’s a few years back, complete with the negatives. But in comparing the two I find Dukes to project as bigger, stronger and faster, with a superior arm from right field As evidenced, he struck out at a higher rate, but the pace has become far less than his first season down to an 83/45 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 130 Double-A games in 2005.

 

As my man Gus Papadopoulos – Roto Wire  Beat Writer and area resident – points out, the emergence of Jonny Gomes, the return of Rocco Baldelli, and the organizational outfield situation as a whole probably leaves Dukes on the outside looking in. A trade seems likely given he’s best suited to right field, a spot destined for Delmon Young in the future.

I see a lot of potential with the negative of attitude and legal problems, but he’s known for a good work ethic despite it. A higher risk than you might like in a top prospect, but an exciting athlete that could pay dividends for the club that rolls the dice and antes up.

White Sox Ray Liotta

Liotta, the White Sox pitching prospect –not the actor — was assigned to the team’s minor league camp on Tuesday. He allowed one run in four innings while posting a 0/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The second round pick from 2004 has moved to become the team’s best pitching prospect with the promotion of Bobby Jenks and the trade of Gio Gonzalez to the Phillies. I’d expect his ultimate assignment to begin the season will be Double-A.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old had a fine 2005 and has seen his stock rise considerably, including inclusion on many of the prospect lists I’ve reviewed. I personally feel his worth is being over-reported and see the 2005 stats through the jade-green prism of scepticism. I don’t find a Barry Zito comparison apt in the present, given a low 90s fastball that is best described as flat. I acknowledge the southpaw’s 12-6 curveball, but there’s not much else in secondary pitches yet. And there are concerns in scouting reports that make mention his motion could be a little condensed.
I tend to think the 2005 results were not that dominant given his age, and combined with stuff, think he currently projects as a middle-of-the-rotation type. That analysis could be revamped if he obliterates the higher levels, but at this point I’m disagreeing with some, or perhaps their ranking methodology on pitching prospects.
Still, I do think he has the makings of a major leaguer, particularly with the left-handed gene present.
Dan Quon

Phillies’ Michael Bourn

Bourn is assigned to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes/Barrie on Tuesday after going 2-for-7 during spring training,

Bourn is a guy I really like for the future, and am at present ignoring his Double-A debut in 2005 for being skipped a level without a great deal of professional experience. There’s some debate as to whether Bourn, a fourth round pick in 2003, is the team’s best outfield prospect or whether that moniker belongs to the first-rounder in 2004 Greg Golsen.

My preference for being older and more defensively proficient is Bourn, who is actually the faster of the two and has the better arm. Attention you fantasy 5X5ers, he’s been favorably compared to Kenny Lofton with a vastly superior arm, high on-base skills, speed, and more pop than the likes of Willy Taveras and co. Whether he is a young Lofton or ex-Phillies failure Marlon Byrd remains to be seen, but I’d suggest the fact he’s being promoted so quickly is an indicator the Phillies think he’s a somebody.

His strikeouts took a jump in 2005 but given the advancement the overall 123/63 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 135 Double-A Eastern League games is not frightful nor is 38-of–50 in the stolen base department. Recognize and take into account the lack the overall upper-level experience thus far, and watch him as a prospect of note from the International League this year.

Minor Transactions And Transgressions

Minor Transactions chosen for discussion

P Jeff Niemann of the Devil Rays was assigned to Double-A Montgomery

Quon on Niemann prior to the 2005 season
“I wouldn’t think he’s anywhere near ready for the majors in 2005, but his upside, while risky, is enormous. Recently signed, the fourth overall pick in 2004 from Rice has potential for stardom, although it’s in a rawer package than Mark Prior coming out of college, and has the injury-prone tag already attached.”

Quon on Niemann a year later
Ignoring the poor language skills of the previous author, I don’t disagree going forward. The injury-tag notation became prophetic as he did go down with shoulder complications resulting in arthroscopic surgery at the beginning of this year. I wouldn’t imagine we’ll see him on the mound at full strength until early-to-mid June, and I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on any long-term health prognostication. I still think he had the best upside from that pitching-rich draft class with awesome stuff and great feel. The scouting note of interest is his good body control, important because pitchers this big (6-9, 260) often take longer to develop, and I suspect his best will not be seen until he’s been a major leaguer for a few seasons.

P Adam Loewen of the Orioles was assigned to the team’s minor league camp
I really like what I saw from Loewen in the WBC matchup against the U.S.; love the stuff, hate the pitching motion. The Canadian first-rounder from 2002 has been erratic in his minor league career and 2005 was no exception. He should wind up at Double-A this year looking for more consistency and improvements in his secondary pitches (And perhaps some work on mechanics in the authors opinion). Despite the enigmatic results, he’s still a prospect of note, capable of a stellar career if he can get past the above issues.

Transgressions
I like to draw a parallel to my perceived “expert” status as a fantasy player to the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies, both of whom are at present big league ball clubs by definition only. Quon’s demise as a fantasy player came because of a lack of time brought on by economic factors — too many leagues combined with a need to feed my family — and the clubs in question fall the same way, who by coincidence were expansion teams together in 1993.
The Rockies’ position players are comprised of one All-Star in Todd Helton, up and comer Matt Holiday, and a couple of promising young sophomores. The remainder of the cast is a group of Triple-A plus types who probably wouldn’t make any of the 28 remaining squads. Their minor league system is thin at the near-ready stage, but have a strong collection of youthful guys coming later on. The only intriguing guy on the near horizon is Jeff Baker, if he can stay healthy and successfully make the transition from thirdbase to the outfield.
The Marlins have won two World Series Championships under two different owners, gutted by epic proportions and rebuilt both times. This version is the worst ever, although it is preferable to the Rockies. Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera are both young studs, and Jeremy Hermida looks like an early ROY fav. They’ve got top prospect Hanley Ramirez penciled in (probably a year too early), some intriguing young pitchers who are likely to fail due to inexperience, and a few inexperienced positional players who could turn into decent-to-mediocre ball payers in the long run. Their system is better than the Rockies in the near-ready category, but it’s going to be a tough year.

It’s sad that a handful of teams come into the season with no hope every year, but I can’t think of a year when there were two teams this undermanned and under-experienced.

Dan Quon

Quon On Prospect Lists

Boyd Nation wrote last year, “Baseball America has been the source of one of the great evils of our time — the prospect list.” Hs point is that lists are media driven, fuelled by their mass appeal, but are not real and should be kept away from the eyes of the decision makers. He also spoke of something he coined “The Halo Effect,” citing an example near and dear to my heart in a comparison of Padres’ Jon Knott and Xavier Nady, in which Knott had the better numbers for three consecutive years, yet Nady was the higher-ranked prospect gracing all of the lists in each of the years, climbing without statistical basis, and being promoted above Knott. He makes the claim this was due to perception and prospect lists, but I struggle with the latter, thinking it’s unlikely the Padres make their promotions based on what Baseball America thinks. But I acknowledge the business aspect of baseball teams and recognize appeasing their clientele could play a role.

Those brave souls who dare to listen to my babble know well my feelings on both players, and I do agree with much of what Mr. Boyd says, a man who, not unlike myself, has toiled in relative anonymity, known more to the experts than the general public. His point on prospect lists in general is something I’ve talked about privately for years, but I’ve always taken another step forward, and declared Baseball America’s lists flawed for the reasons cited above. They are a massive source of information, but are best categorized as journalists; good to great ones for anyone who misinterprets this and assumes it’s an indictment of the organization. Their lists reflect both media spin and a love of potential, regardless of team policy/trend, age or statistical proof. To that end, they do not hold up against reality, and there are more accurate methods to prognosticate it. But that isn’t really the agenda of the lists as pointed out above.

I don’t intend on discussing my rankings this season as I don’t have a list published for this year. It is buried deep within the bowels of my database, but don’t normally enjoy being taken to task for not ranking a player as high as Baseball America, or at least as high as the team fan thinks I should. Not that I’m bothered by a good debate – I’m armed always – and generally find minor league enthusiasts to be very knowledgeable and articulate. But you’re not permitted space for total disclosure of thought on the lists. There’s a feeling of nakedness when lists are published and a flat rank with only a line or two leaves you vulnerable to interpretation. And the criticisms come in droves at that time every year. Why go through the ordeal if you don’t have to?
No 100-rankings for this year, unless I change my mind, which I do too often, according to my wife.

Dan Quon