Victor Martinez: Tigers Sign Catcher, Show They Don’t Know How To Build a Team

November 23, 2010

The Detroit Tigers are about to sign free agent Victor Martinez to a four-year deal worth $50 million. Martinez is listed as a catcher, but will primarily earn his keep via the designated hitter position.

It is said this move will give the Tigers a real good 3-4 duo of Miguel Cabrera and Martinez with V-Mart providing valuable protection for Cabrera. Maybe they can even sign another hitter (Magglio Ordonez, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford?) to have a good 3-4-5.

That might boost Cabrera’s MVP status for next season (he finished 2nd today), but it still will not help the Tigers win in 2011 or 2012 and especially not during the final two seasons of the proposed deal.

The signing is terrible for the Tigers, and comes on the heel of another bad signing, the three-year $16.5 million deal for right handed relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit.

It just goes to show that the Tigers management has no idea how to build a winning team. As the Tigers are trying to do, it is impossible to buy your way into a championship.

Martinez does not offer anything more than a DH and occasional first baseman. He is completely unproductive on the defensive end of catching, unable to move well behind the plate and is really good in his ability to allow stolen bases. I am sure V-Mart is not the best game-caller either.

So to pay $50 million for a 32 year old DH is mind-boggling. And not only do they sign Martinez for four years, but they also have to give up a first round draft pick in 2011 (No. 19 overall) to the Boston Red Sox.

The Tigers give up a draft pick in a draft that is considered to be very, very deep. It could rival the 2002 first round and/or 2005 first round in terms of quality and depth.  And both those drafts were quality after the first round, too.

So, in a deep draft, a team which has a terrible farm system has given away its first round pick, and if they sign another Type A free agent, they lose their second round pick, too.

I am not against free agent signings. Many free agent signings work out for the teams with decent production, but rarely do they ever lead to World Series championships. When they do, it is because the free agent player was the “final piece.” 

Free agents are to be used to supplement a good farm system, to complement the players a team has already developed and who are ready to compete. They should not be signed to start a team or fix up some holes.

When your own home grown players have reached the point where they are “knocking on the door” is when you search the free agent market for that key piece. The Tigers did that in 2004 when they went out and signed Pudge Rodriguez to handle a younger pitching staff, and eventually went to the World Series in 2006.

The fact that the 2010 Tigers positional prospects are ranked the worst overall in baseball has forced the Tigers hand here to sign an aging FA veteran bat.

And the prospect spiral keeps plummeting downward for the Tigers. They would not win in 2011 without Martinez and they will not win with him.

Martinez is not a key piece for the Tigers as their lineup still stinks even with him protecting Cabrera in the No. 4 hole. V-Mart had a decent season last year, but in no way does it warrant a four-year deal worth $50 million. He is not a real impact guy, only the best available now, and will only decline as he gets older.

Even if Martinez does not catch any games in 2011, the wear and tear already on his lower half will hasten any decline*. Did you know Martinez only has had one season with a plus .500 slugging percentage?

Even Derek Jeter had one plus .500 slugging season, back in 1999. Jeter’s career OPS is a scant .001 below Martinez career mark of .838. Is that worth $50 million? In a park which is historically bad for Martinez and is considered a pitcher’s park?

*Some readers will relate this deal to the one the Yankees gave Jorge Posada four seasons ago, a four year $52 million deal. Another deteriorating switch-hitting catcher who will end up as a DH. But things are much different for the Yankees at that point.

First, Posada was a home grown, key member of the Yankees dynasty run in the late 1990s-early 2000s. There is something to be said for paying for past performance when you are a home grown champion. Second, Posada was still the primary catcher and also pretty decent behind the plate at that point. Third, he was coming off a career year which he slashed .338 BA/.426 OBP/.543 SLG/.970 OPS, with 42 doubles, 20 HRs and 90 RBI.

The deal does not make sense in terms of years, money or losing a draft pick.

The Tigers would be better suited to follow the lead of the Minnesota Twins, who won the A.L. Central division last year, three of the last five years and six of the last nine seasons. Load up on home grown talent, sign the top two or three to long term deals, and keep producing enough talent to fill holes along the way.

Granted the Tigers are taking on more payroll in trying to win.

But smart franchises increase payroll on their own players, not somebody else’s free agents.

That is the recipe for staying near the top of the standings nearly every season. But an organization first has to produce your own home grown major league talent.

Bad franchises keep signing other teams players instead of producing their own.

Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit are two bad free agent signings.

Par for the course within the Tigers ownership of Mike Ilitch.

Mid-Market MLB Method: Lock Up Now or Wait Until After Arbitration Years

August 24, 2010

When the Tampa Bay Rays opened the 2008 major league season, third baseman Evan Longoria was playing for the Durham Bulls in the Triple A International League.

It was the minor leagues for the Rays first choice in the 2006 draft, and was the third overall pick. Many people, including myself, suggested the Rays were trying to save themselves some money by delaying Longoria’s “arbitration clock” by sending him to the minors.

Isn’t the idea to try and win games? Longoria was the Rays best opportunity at third base to help them win, but was mired in Triple A for financial reasons.

But being mired lasted all of seven games and 25 at bats, before Longoria was promoted to the majors. The Rays were going to let the clock start early on their prize after all.

But even the Rays startled everyone by signing Longoria the next day to a six year, $17.5 million contract through 2013 including three club options for 2014-2016. The Rays bought out all of Longoria’s arbitration years and his first three free agent years with club options.

Based upon Longoria’s performance, the team has made out very well. Even though they gambled on an unproven young talent and are going to save a bunch of money over the long haul.

This buying out of a players early “control” years is a growing trend which began in the early-to-mid 1990’s by General Manager John Hart when he was with the Cleveland Indians. He signed up youngsters Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Carlos Baerga, plus Joey and Albert Belle to multi-year deals WHILE they were really good…and really young. 

For example, Lofton has a 7.7 WAR* in 1994 (shortened season due to strike), the highest in baseball that season and his WAR was 7.3 in 1993. He made only $925K that year and $1.925 million in 1995. His salary would have been much higher had Lofton actually gone to arbitration in 1995.

*That is the first time I used the WAR stat in any article ever. While I am not needing to be rushed to the hospital, I am still in shock. It was needed for reference on how good Lofton was those seasons. Don’t expect it all the time.

Hart needed to do this to keep together what he projected his core would be for many years at reasonable prices than what these players would receive through arbitration and early free agency. As a smaller market team, Hart reasoned the Indians had a smaller window to win.

Signing up young players is a great tactic for these small market** teams to use.

**I love the term small-market. With all these billionaire owners, they can afford to spend their OWN PERSONAL money on players. I don’t mean to spend frivolously big on free agents like you are Omar Minaya, but to spend to keep the players your organization develops.

Why then are there small markets when these guys have their own money they can spend. Before he died, Carl Pohlad of the Minnesota Twins was the richest owner in baseball but did not spend money. Lucky the Twins re-signed Kirby Puckett when Carl was alive, but I am not so sure he would have signed Joe Mauer to that contract last off season.

Should other small-market teams use the same ideas?

Of course, they should. They have to in order to compete with the so-called big boys of Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

But these big teams do the same thing.

The Red Sox signed Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis to long term deals before even going to arbitration on Lester and Pedroia and after the first arbitration year for Youkilis. I fully expect them to extend Clay Buchholz after the 2011 season.

They want to see players perform for two or three seasons before they sign players longer term. This allows for any adjustment periods the league makes to the players after their rookie and sophomore seasons.

The Yankees also did that with Robinson Cano two seasons ago and even Derek Jeter, who was signed to a ten-year deal after his second arbitration year. Yankees would probably sign Phil Hughes to a multi-year deal, too, after 2011, buying out several arbitration years and maybe a free agent year or two.

Even the Philadelphia Phillies tied up their young guys Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, who were tied up after their first arbitration years.

There is quite a bit of talk now about the MLB financial statements for several teams being made public. These statements put teams like Pittsburgh and Florida into bad light, and for once it was not about their on field records. They show that the teams have made tens of millions of dollars but have not put that much of that money into player salaries.

These teams need to start signing their young stars when they believe their young players are going to be well-above average for the long haul. This is tricky because if you jump too soon on a player, you could be left holding the bag at big dollars for very little in the way of results.

Similar to what Scott Kazmir and Nate McLouth have become.

But certain smaller-market teams have reaped the benefits of signing young talent early, like Milwaukee with Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo and Corey Hart, the Marlins with Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson; and the Mariners with Franklin Gutierrez and Felix Hernandez.

Other teams like the Braves with Brian McCann (and likely Jason Heyward soon), have done this.

The Pirates have a couple good, young talented ballplayers in Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen. Alvarez is signed through 2014 (including club options), but it would be good to spend some of that profit and also sign McCutchen after his first full season to a long-term commitment, saving long-term money.

The smaller-market teams need to decide who the players they want to keep. Not just “team” players who can be replaced cheaper through from their farm system, but players who already have been All-Stars.

And who they feel will continue to be All-Stars and league leaders, not league average.

McCutchen appears to be that type of player a team can take that risk.

Many other teams have major decisions to make.

Players like Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros, Dallas Braden and Trevor Cahill of the A’s, and Jair Jurrjens of the Braves need to be looked at longer term at below future-market rates. 

But the biggest task might fall to the Cincinnati Reds have to decide if Joey Votto (yes, of course!), Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto need to be locked up soon. They all are coming up on their arbitration years.

This would be a great move for the first-place Reds to sign all three, who have plenty of young players in the fold who could keep the Reds at the top of the NL Central standing for many years to come. Similar to what their in-state brethren, the Cleveland Indians, did almost 20 years ago.   

Most of the big market teams seem to like to get their players just before or a year after their first year of arbitration. 

I feel it might be better for the smaller-market teams to take a bigger risk by signing top guys earlier, like Longoria in Tampa and Troy Tulowitzki (his college teammate) in Colorado. The Rockies would be wise to lock up Carlos Gonzalez to a “Longoria type” deal this off season and keep the young slugger locked up in Colorado through age 30.

It sure worked for the Rays.

New York Yankees: High-A Tampa Rotation Pitching Prospect Capsules, Part 2

July 29, 2010

This is the second installment of my starting pitching capsules from my trip down to the Florida State League to watch the High A Tampa Yankees play.

I saw quite a few games which included four of the five starting pitchers. The one starter I did NOT see pitch was Dellin Betances.

The first capsule can be seen here, and included right-handed pitcher Adam Warren and left-handed pitcher Manuel Banuelos. I like both those guys, and can see Warren (who reminds me of Greg Maddux) and Banuelos (who reminds me of Johan Santana with a better curve ball), getting to the Bronx by 2012.

By reminds me, I am not saying these pitchers will have those types of careers, but they have similarities.

After my report on Warren, he was promoted to Double A Trenton where he has made two starts, and has a 2-0 record and 2.25 ERA. I saw him again in Trenton and we spoke a bit about his season. I mentioned to him that I saw Graham Stoneburner for Charleston, wrote a report, and then he was promoted to High A Tampa. I then saw Warren pitch in Tampa, wrote the report, and he was then promoted to Trenton.

I asked Warren who else does he want me to see so they can get promoted. He replied, “keep coming to my starts.” He is very mild-mannered kid, and has a good sense of humor.

This capsule includes another left-handed/right-handed due, Shaeffer Hall and aforementioned Stoneburner. I saw both of these guys pitch for Low A Charleston in early May and again in Tampa.

Shaeffer Hall – LHP   6″0″, 185 lbs.

Hall was the RiverDogs opening day starter, throwing six innings and allowing three hits, no walks while striking out four. Of the 13 other outs recorded, Hall generated nine ground outs, including one double play.

The first time I met Shaeffer Hall, he was in the Charleston clubhouse on their trip north to the Lakewood (NJ) Blue Claws.

Here was my first question:

Joseph DelGrippo: “Last year in college, Stephen Strasburg threw a no-hitter against the Air Force Academy. Do you know the other college pitcher who threw a no-hitter against Air Force last year?

Shaeffer Hall: Laughing out loud saying, “Yeah, you’re looking at him, but I guess you already knew that.”

Yes, I did. Hall threw an early season February nine inning no-hitter for the University of Kansas. The Jayhawks have a good baseball program but it is overlooked because of a great Kansas hoops team and other well-known Big 12 baseball programs such as Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Later that season, Hall pitched a complete game shutout against Dartmouth in the NCAA tournament. He was the Jayhawks Friday night starter in 2009, indicating he was the ace of that staff.

However, he did not have a great season going 5-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 15 starts, but his walk rate of 0.97 per nine innings attracted the Yankees. New York likes to take college pitchers who they feel pitched well but were the victim of “metal bat syndrome.”

Hall appears to fit into that category. He is also a hard worker, who worked to lose about 20 pounds from his college frame. I noticed the difference from his college photos to his body type in Lakewood.

Due to a slight shoulder strain, Hall only threw nine professional innings last season for short season Staten Island. The 2010 season is basically Hall’s first full year in pro baseball.

It’s funny, but Hall has had such a good season in his first full year in pro baseball, but in the two games I saw him pitch were his two worst outings of the year.

While I was “good luck” for Stoneburner and Warren, I am like a pariah of sorts for Hall.

Hall is a fastball, curveball, change-up guy who relies primarily on precise location to be effective. And based upon his results this season, he does have great control and command within the strike zone. He works quickly (a great trait) and can throw all three of his pitches for strikes.

RiverDogs pitching coach Jeff Ware agrees. “He has great command of all three of his pitches. When he has all three working and keeping the ball down, he is on top of his game. He can strike you out and can induce lots of ground balls. Schaef is also well prepared and hard-working. It is a great combination.”

Hall needs to be precise because he does not throw that hard, mostly 87-89, barely touching 90 a few times, but has some fastballs hovering around the 85 range. His curve ball is a nice weapon (mostly around 74), but while it has good bite, it is not consistent with its depth. Shaeffer sometimes leaves this pitch up, especially to right-handed hitters.

Like almost all Yankee farm hand pitchers, Hall’s out pitch is his change-up. It will arrive normally in the 76 range, and has decent bite, running slightly away from righties. It is not as good as Banuelos’ on an every pitch basis but it does have the ability to get lot of weakly hit balls in play.

Hall needs to also have an umpire who has a liberal outlook on strikes. In the game I witnessed in May up in Lakewood, the umpire has a very tight zone and would not give Hall any pitches on the corner. It forced Hall to bring his pitches over the plate more, where they proceeded to get hit.

In speaking with Hall after that game, he did not blame the umpiring, but said the zone was a little “tighter” than the day before. “I wasn’t getting many calls on the corners,” Hall said. “But I still need to work around that and throw better pitches when guys got on base.”

But that is what happens when a pitcher does not have “put away” stuff. Hall needs to work the strike zone in and out, down and away. If Hall does not get the pitches on the corner called strikes, the hitters will adjust to the tighter zone. And Hall can get hit hard when he brings the ball back over the outer and inner thirds of the plate.

In Tampa, it was more of the same. Lots of hits against Hall, who despite not walking anyone, was battered around. Some hits were dinks and dunks, but others were really belted. He seemed to not have command of his fastball. Around 88 with the fastball and similar as in Lakewood with the curve ball (74-75) and change-up (76).

Shaeffer Hall is a very nice pitcher, but is likely not going to be in any future Yankee plans. They just do not like that type of pitcher, a guy who doesn’t have dominant stuff with “great upside.”

Hall reminds me of former Yankee Chase Wright.

Mark Buehrle and maybe Jamie Moyer would also be good comparisons to what type of pitcher Hall is stuff wise.

Hall is a great kid who really likes the Yankees organization. My time in Tampa was during the Cliff Lee trade scenarios and Hall, Stoneburner and Adam Warren were asking me about what I had heard.

Graham Stoneburner – RHP  6’1″, 180 lbs

I saw also saw Stoneburner pitch twice, once in Lakewood and once in Tampa. He was great both times, and you can read about the Lakewood game here.

Stoneburner has a power fastball, above average to plus slider and a vastly improving change-up. When I saw him in Lakewood back in early May, I was told by one scout that Graham did not possess a good change. But his performance in that game, and other which followed proved that assessment incorrect.

The change-up was pretty good and he threw it quite often, generating lots of swings and misses. It had good downward bite as did his slider and two-seam fastball, which moves in both directions.

When asked about the change-up, Stoneburner said, “I think my change-up is coming along really well. It was pretty good all spring and I have more confidence in throwing, even in some fastball counts. The more I throw it, the better I get a feel for it.”  

That is the important thing about the change-up. Some pitchers don’t get a good feel for it, then they scrap it for long periods of time, which is a huge mistake.

It is a credit to Stoneburner that he continues to go with the pitch in different situations.

Graham has an explosive fastball which reached up to 96 MPH in the Lakewood start. In fact, in Stoneburner’s 95th pitch against Blue Claws that day saw him bring a 95 MPH up and in fastball past the No. 5 hitter Darin Ruff.

Stoneburner is a power pitcher to the core. He goes right after hitters and doesn’t mince his pitches as he throws strike after strike. He also has the rare ability to throw that hard and still command his arsenal within the strike zone.

His slider was consistently around 80-81 showing good, late break. Many people have talked about that he need to “tighten” up the slider, but I did not see any real need to alter that pitch as it appeared the same both times I saw him pitch. Stoneburner even told me in Tampa that he has thrown the slider the same way all season.

With his really good fastball/slider combination, some people have talked about Stoneburner becoming a power reliever as he moves further up the Yankee ladder. Maybe near the end of this season, that might happen as Double A Trenton goes into a playoff push and Stoneburner has already eclipsed 104 innings.

I spoke to him in July at a Tampa game and he feels he will be a 130-140 inning pitcher this year. It is a possibility, and I would like to see hin challenged again this season. But the Yankees do not like to promote a pitcher two times in one season, and with this being Graham’s first pro season, it is unlikely he will be moved to Trenton.

But with four pitches which he commands well, Stoneburner can be a real good starting pitcher. He has shown that this season in two levels, and owns one of the best WHIP’s for a starting pitcher in the minor leagues with a 0.90. 

Although he has a somewhat long arm action in the back, Stoneburner’s delivery appears to be consistent, and the control numbers are good. He has only issued only 26 walks in 104 IP (2.25 per 9 IP), a great number considering how hard Stoneburner throws. He reminds me of Tim Hudson, a sinewy guy with a smallish frame who throws hard, with control, and has a good slider.

While the Yankees always trade away their fringy prospects, Stoneburner is much more than a fringe prospect and can be a vital member of the Yankees pitching staff as soon as 2012. He should not be traded, but given every opportunity to continue up the ranks as a starting pitcher.

New York Yankees: Discussed Cliff Lee Trade a Sign of a Great Farm System

July 9, 2010

UPDATE (July 9, 2010, 4:10 PM) : It appears via several sources that the Lee to the Yankees deal is OFF. The reason has been given that the Mariners did not feel comfortable with the ankle injury of second base prospect David Adams.

While I view that excuse as a made up one, it seems to me that the Mariners were using the Yankees as leverage to maybe get a better deal from another team.

Or maybe they received a last minute offer which they deem as much better.

The Texas Rangers have appeared to become the front funner, likely finally including first base slugger Justin Smoak in the deal. The Mariners obviously liked Smoak over Montero.

What this turn of events does not do is lessen the point of the article, which bring sinto focus the vast talent the Yankees have at their disposal via the draft and international free agent signings.


While I am shocked that Cliff Lee will be traded to the Yankees, I am not shocked the Yankees were able to trade for him.

Most people will scream that the trade smells of the Yankees ability to pay for the remaining millions on Lee’s current contract, and that the rich will get richer.

But many other teams were willing (and able) to pick up the remaining $4 million. Teams like Minnesota, Texas, and to a lesser extent, the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays (all financially tight teams) have thrown their hat in the Cliff Lee ring.

But what the Yankees do have over those teams is a deep farm system with talent at highly desirable positions. This was about the Yankees having the resources to obtain Lee via trade by having developed one of the top farm systems in all of baseball.

And Branch Rickey is quietly smiling.

When Brian Cashman obtained complete control of baseball operations in 2005, the one aspect he wanted to improve was the franchise’s farm system. The Yankees began the trend of drafting hard to sign guys, then offering big money to get them away from college. They also became very aggressive in the international free agent market.

Other teams quickly followed suit on these tactics.

Their amateur drafting and international free agent signings would focus on “up the middle” talent, primarily catchers and pitchers, and to a lesser extent, center fielders and second basemen.

Positions which are important to building a quality, homegrown team, but players to be developed at positions which other teams also need. And which other teams trying to rebuild would trade established veterans for.

This trading of young talent for veterans is no different than what the Yankees of the 1980’s and early 1990’s did. But now the Yankees have built so much depth at these key positions, they are dealing from strength and not emptying their entire farm system to snag one or two players.

This is not like the Philadelphia Phillies trading several of their top players for Roy Halladay, then turning around and having to trade Lee to the Mariners to replace prospects from a now weaker system.

So trading Triple-A catcher/DH Jesus Montero , Double-A second baseman David Adams, and likely Triple-A 22-year-old starting pitcher Zach McAllister for one of the top five pitchers in baseball does not hurt the organization in the long run.

The Yankees still have highly regarded catchers Austin Romine in Double-A, J.R. Murphy in Low-A Charleston (although I still think they turn him into a corner outfielder), and 17-year-old stud Gary Sanchez , who is a man among boys in the rookie Gulf Coast League.

Sanchez hit his fourth home run today and has 20 RBI in 15 GCL games. Also, his throwing arm rivals many already in the majors leagues.

At High-A Tampa, the Yankees have left-handed hitting, smooth-swinging second baseman Corban Joseph , who will likely get a call up to Double-A Trenton before too long. They also have some 27-year-old guy named Robinson Cano in the majors.

And the Yankees have ridiculously strong pitching depth in the minors with Ivan Nova and David Phelps at Triple-A and Hector Hoesi , D.J. Mitchell (who has only been pitching for four years), and Andrew Brackman at Double-A.

And, despite what Jim Callis thinks , a boatload of highly-regarded pitching prospects are at High-A Tampa , with Dellin Betances, Manuel Banuelos, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Warren, and Shaeffer Hall.

With the rise of Phelps this season from dominating Double-A to his latest start at Triple-A, McAllister, who I have always liked , became expendable in order to obtain Lee.

And with those three highly-regarded players in Montero, Adams, and McAllister on their way to the Mariners, the Yankees still have tremendous depth in their system at catcher, second base and on the mound.

It’s not like the other New York team, which has just started to produce homegrown talent, but did not have enough chips to get the prize this season.

The Yankees have depth at the key positions, both to build from within and trade away to obtain their needs. This has been the plan all along for Cashman and the Yankees’ hierarchy since 2005.

And it appears to have paid off handsomely.

So please do not cry and whine about how the Yankees are buying their way to another World Series title.

Save that for December when Lee signs a long-term deal with them.

Karsten Whitson is this 2010 MLB Draft’s Best Overall Pick

June 8, 2010

I love Karsten Whitson as a pitcher. He was drafted ninth overall yesterday by the San Diego Padres.

It was a great pick by San Diego, who realize while playing in spacious Petco Park, their future will always be in pitching and defense.

Whitson is a superb high school pitcher who has great command of three pitches, including a mid 90’s fastball, nice breaking slider and an above average change-up.

He goes right after hitters and appears to have a good feel for pitching. He reminds me of Zack Greinke, another Florida high school pitcher taken in the first round back in 2002 by the Kansas City Royals.

When he was then GM of the Montreal Expos, current New York Mets GM Omar Minaya passed on Greinke in 2002, taking Clint Everts right before Greinke was selected. Minaya also passed on Whitson yesterday.

Minaya blew it again. A guy supposedly known for his scouting acumen, Omar bypassed the best pitcher available yesterday when he selected the Mets first round pick. Minaya had the No. 7 overall pick, taking college pitcher Matt Harvey instead, who people have claimed could step in the Mets bullpen this season.

Another in the line of “save my job” moves by Minaya.

One knock on Whitson has been his lack of consistent quality competition, but he performed well last season in the Aflac All-American game.

This video shows Whitson striking out the 2010 No. 1 pick, Bryce Harper on three pitches. Harper is the second hitter to face Whitson in the video:

It is only one batter, but a really good hitter, and it shows the command Whitson has over his fastball and off-speed pitches.

In about three years, many teams will look back and say, “How come we did not draft Whitson when we had the opportunity?”

That quote could come from Omar when he is no longer a member of the Mets front office.

2010 MLB Draft: Top 10 Pitching Prospects

June 4, 2010

While there is no pitcher with the status and promise of a Stephen Strasburg (or Mike Leake for that matter), there are a few top pitching prospects who could get to the majors, a few rather quickly.

This list is not who has the best curveball or will be drafted highest.

This is about who I believe will have the biggest major league impact.

Some of my draft beliefs you have recently read about in a prior slide show, but here is a recap:

1) All things equal, I would rather stay away from a high school pitcher.

2) College arms who are from major BASEBALL conferences usually are the safest bet.

3) I would always rather go with a guy with good command of his pitches, but throws only in the high 80s to low 90s. The guy with mid-to-high 90s stuff, but has no idea where the pitch is going or what to do on the mound, usually is a wasted pick.

That is why a few guys looked at to be taken very high in this draft are not on the list. They may throw hard and have “great upside,” but they are really not good pitchers.

That includes guys like Chris Sale and Stetson Allie.

That being said, there are a few top high school arms on this list, and right handed high school arms appear to be the deepest part of the 2010 draft.

And when I put down a comparison, it does not mean that the draftee will have that type of career. But means that the pitcher reminds me of that current or former major leaguer or might have the same type stuff.

#10 – Alex Wimmers RHP Ohio State

A very polished college pitcher who has command of several pitches, including what could be the best curveball in the draft.

He also had a pretty good change up entering his 2010 season, but it is now a much better pitch with good downward action (see grip in photo).

He is similar to Greg Maddux in that he can command both sides of the plate with a 90 MPH fastball, good control and solid movement. Only flaw in a smooth delivery is that he sometimes opens his front shoulder up too early.

Projection is a mid-rotation starter, but easily could become better if he gets quality coaching in the minors.

#9 – Asher Wojciechowski RHP, The Citadel

A very big, powerful right handed horse, standing 6’4″ and is a good 235 lbs.

He is a power pitcher, through and through. Hard fastball with some sink sitting in low 90s, and was steady at 93-94 late in the Citadel’s season.

Nothing in his arsenal is off speed, as he has a power curve/slider but no working change up.

Some people still believe he can be a major league starting pitcher, but I disagree. He is a perfect example of a top college starter who will be a major league relief pitcher.

I like his confidence. For example, he called his college coach last Saturday night demanding the ball for the conference championship game the next day. He was working on three days rest after throwing 117 pitches in the opening game on Wednesday.

Think Joba Chamberlain in regards to size, demeanor and stuff. But his overall stuff and command is not as good as Joba’s.

What I do not like is his arm action. In the photo above, Wojciechowski’s elbow is too high up before his release, and his upper body is too far forward.

That signals eventual shoulder surgery, which can be delayed if he is converted to relief.

#8 – Matt Harvey RHP University of North Carolina

Another college starting pitcher who projects to be a professional relief pitcher.

This is due to his pitch repertoire which includes a four-seamer thrown at 94 (which has reached 98), a two-seamer and hard slider.

No soft stuff here. Harvey has a smooth delivery and no real issues.

Coming from the baseball factory of North Carolina, Harvey reminds me of another former Tar Heel, Daniel Bard.

Bard is a set up man for Jonathan Papebon and looks to be the closer when Papelbon becomes too expensive for the Red Sox.

That is the same role and program I envision for Harvey.

#7 – Peter Tago – RHP Dana Hills (CA) High School

Many are scared of Tago due to some off field matters which has caused him to remove himself from his UCLA commitment.

But Tago wants to turn pro and will sign quickly.

He also wants the ball often. I love that.

He has a very smooth delivery with good, safe arm action which could limit any injuries.

Late in his senior season, Tago impressed by throwing 95 MPH in the first and last innings of work. He seems to get better as the game moved along.

He has a power fastball from a low slot delivery, generating significant movement.

Tago can be a top of the rotation starting pitcher, and he reminds me of Ramon Martinez, Pedro’s older brother.

#6 – Karsten Whitson RHP Chipley (FL) High School

Nice, big frame with a mid-90s fastball, great slider and very good change up.

Whitson is the most polished high school pitcher in the draft, but a knock is that he has not faced good competition in high school.

Throws strikes with good movement, and with his arsenal, he could be the first high school 2010 pick to make the majors.

Think Zack Greinke with a possible bigger body down the road.

#5 – Brandon Workman RHP University of Texas

One of the more polished pitchers in the 2010 draft, Workman was a high draft pick in high school, but declined the Philadelphia Phillies money and opted for college.

Good move.

Depending on the selecting team, Workman could be one of the first draftees to be in a major league rotation.

Good fastball and great curve, which can be thrown for strikes, plus an improving change up. He has been the horse of a really good Texas program for the last two seasons.

While Texas has not produced quality pro pitching talent the last ten years, Workman could the best of the last decade. I like going with Longhorn pitchers, hoping one finally makes it—similar to Susan Lucci at the Emmy Awards.

Think Roger Clemens in body type and ability to power pitch.

#4 Deck McGuire RHP Georgia Tech

Good body at 6’6″, 225 lbs with room to grow.

Deck has had a very consistent career in one of the top baseball conferences in the country.

He has three good pitches, a fastball at 94, with good command of each pitch. The only knock is that his fastball has little movement and he sometimes does not finish his curveball.

One reason I have him this high is if Deck gets into a good professional pitching program which cleans up some of his mechanics, he could be a really good top-to-middle of the rotation starter with greater velocity.

Compares to Chris Volstad of the Florida Marlins in size and stuff.

#3 Anthony Ranaudo RHP Louisiana State University

I still believe Ranaudo will be a good major league pitcher. He has faced great competition during his three seasons at LSU, and was the winning pitcher in the 2009 College World Series.

Ranaudo has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, good curve and average change up.
With a little work, Renaudo could have three really good out pitches.

Some people are worried about an elbow issue which no one outside his immediate family (and doctor) knows anything about. It only required a little rest, but no knife.

What if he needed Tommy John surgery? He will still be an effective major league pitcher by 2013 at age 25.

Is that really all that bad?

He could then be similar to Andrew Brackman for the Yankees in the 2007 draft. If Ranaudo needed surgery, he would miss about a year, come back slowly and start to dominate again two years removed form TJS.

I am not saying he needs the surgery, but I always like to look at the worst case scenario.

Best spot for Ranaudo would be a team like the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, who can afford to pay him what he wants and afford the time he might need.

Ranaudo’s comparison could be Justin Verlander, but only if he works hard to refine secondary pitches, and doesn’t need surgery.

Then he is Brackman reincarnated.

#2 – Jameson Taillon RHP The Woodlands (TX) High School

Even though he is a high school product, Taillon is likely the hardest thrower in the draft, hitting the gun as high as 98 MPH.

While he has pretty clean mechanics from an injury standpoint, from the video I have seen, his landing foot finds itself in different spots even during pitches to the same hitter in the same at bat.

Because of this, he often falls off to the glove side.

He has a short stride which can be lengthened to possibly gain even more consistent velocity, which could be Strasburg territory.

He has a great arm and a possible great future, and a good minor league pitching coordinator will help him get better.

The best thing which can happen to Taillon is for the team which selects him to not put him in competition right away. Send him to an Instructional League to clean up and soften his delivery.

They also need to teach him how to throw a better curve and change up.

Then keep hm in Extended Spring training next year before going to short season ball in June 2011.

With his velocity and the development of a curve ball, he could be like AJ Burnett or even Stephen Strasburg.

But he could easily be Todd Van Poppel, too.

Even though he is a high school product, Taillon is likely the hardest thrower in the draft, hitting the gun as high as 98 MPH.

While he has pretty clean mechanics from an injury standpoint, from the video I have seen, his landing foot finds itself in different spots even during pitches to the same hitter in the same at bat.

Because of this, he often falls off to the glove side.

He has a short stride which can be lengthened to possibly gain even more consistent velocity, which could be Strasburg territory.

He has a great arm and a possible great future, and a good minor league pitching coordinator will help him get better.

The best thing which can happen to Taillon is for the team which selects him to not put him in competition right away. Send him to an Instructional League to clean up and soften his delivery.

They also need to teach him how to throw a better curve and change up.

Then keep hm in Extended Spring training next year before going to short season ball in June 2011.

With his velocity and the development of a curve ball, he could be like AJ Burnett or even Stephen Strasburg.

But he could easily be Todd Van Poppel, too.

#1 Drew Pomeranz – LHP  Ole Miss

He is the best left-handed arm in the draft, and will not go past the Cleveland Indians at No. 5. He could likely be the first arm to get to the majors.

Whether he is taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 2, the Kansas City Royals at No. 4 or the Indians, Pomeranz has the stuff to enter a major league starting rotation this season.

At least a rotation spot with one of those three teams.

If I were Pomeranz’ agent, I would push for a major league contract and possible September 2010 call up.

Pomeranz has a low 90s fastball, effectively thrown to both sides of the plate. He complements that fastball with a nice breaking downward curve, which is a very good out pitch against both right handed and left handed hitters.

While his arm action in the back is a bit long and just plain weird, I would not change much about his delivery, possibly tweaking a few things to get more consistent control of his two major league ready pitches.

He compares to Joe Saunders of the Los Angeles Angels or maybe Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees.

Ten Keys to Success in the Major League Baseball Draft

May 24, 2010

With the major league baseball draft about two weeks away, there are many teams still scrambling around trying to figure out what to do.

High School versus college? Power bat versus pitcher? Immediate help or projection player?

High school or prep talent is looked upon as what is their ceiling. There is a lot of projectability here, whereas college talent usually has almost all their tools in order. They basically need some refinement.

Those teams which usually pick at the top of the draft (also known as the worst teams) usually go for the best talent but longer term projects, since one player is not likely to help the parent club very soon.

But like the Tampa Bay Rays of three years ago, you can build a nice foundation with picks, get better, and still have that one last top pick to put you over the top.

The Washington Nationals have that opportunity this draft with their second No. 1 overall pick in consecutive seasons.

Top high school players could take up to five or six years to make an impact, whereas many recent top picks have shown that highly rated college players (namely pitchers) can make a parent team better much sooner.

Because of the time involved in development, the MLB is more of a crap shoot, as players need to master various levels before making “The Show,” and then comes the biggest test of all.

Many more “can’t miss” prospects taken very high in the draft often miss badly, sometimes due to lack of ability to adjust to the many levels and just plain not having the ability to actually play baseball.

That means no baseball instincts. I feel it is always better to take the best baseball player over the best talent over athleticism.

This years draft presents a plethora of prep talent, but also word that many teams will try to take lesser talent in hopes to sign them on the cheap.

Presented are some keys to developing a major impact through the draft.

1) Everything Being Equal, Take the Hard Worker

 Eric Duncan, the New York Yankees 2003 first round pick (27th overall), was a great hitter in high school for one of the best baseball teams in the state of New Jersey.

He has a quick, power bat, but a swing with lots of holes. Those holes did not get taken advantage of in high school or the lowest level of the minors.

But the higher Duncan rose in the system. the tougher the pitching became via pitch command, and those holes in Duncan’s swing were magnified.

Duncan was informed this in the low levels of the minors, and was told he would not make it unless he worked to correct a few hitting flaws.

The former first round pick did not take heed of this advice, preferring to “stick with what got me here.”

Well, “here” is not the major leagues, and Duncan now finds himself back in Double A, but with another organization.

His inability to listen to his coaches early in his career and work hard to correct any inefficiencies in his swing did not allow his game to improve.

He is one of many highly rated players who thought that talent alone would get them to the majors.

Talent is needed, but so is hard work.

Just ask any player who hits the cages earlier than other hitters, and stays later watching video of his swing.

When a player goes onto a baseball field, they never come off the field as the same player. They either get better or get worse.

The hard-working player will get better.

2) Take the Pitcher with Command over the Power Arm

Mike Leake was drafted out of Arizona State University eighth overall in the 2009 draft. He was considered the most polished college pitcher coming out of the draft since Tim Lincecum was taken 10th overall in 2006.

Leake made the Cincinnati Reds out of his first spring training and has never pitched in the minor leagues.

Leake does not overpower hitters with blazing speed or fancy pitches. His highest velocity is only in the upper 80’s.

However, he can throw the ball where he wants and the ball always has some type of movement.

Sounds like Greg Maddux.

Compare his success with guys like Dewon Brazelton (2001 No. 3 overall to Tampa Bay) who had a big-time arm and threw gas, but did not know where the ball was going.

There are tons of those types of guys in the first round who never made an impact.

When you have command AND velocity, however, now you are really talking.

Guys like Roger Clemens and Stephen Strasburg are/will be great because they has tremendous speed but could throw the ball wherever they want.

You know what they call that?


While guys like Clemens and Strasburg are a very rare breed, the guy with command of his pitches and command of the strike zone will most always be the better prospect over those throwers who have the big arm.

Location, location, location is the motto for real estate, but also for a quality pitcher.

3) Take the Baseball Player Over The Toolsy Athlete 

“The New York Yankees with the 17th pick in the 2005 major league baseball draft select Carl Henry, “toolsy” high school outfielder from Oklahoma.”

Henry never made it above High A, where he really struggled.

This guy was the five-tool player who can run, throw, hit, hit for power, and field. It was all great on paper, but the athletic talent could not translate to the baseball field.

Baseball is such a difficult game that toolsy and athlete really don’t matter when the game begins. The Rays are still waiting for former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham to play baseball, and not show all his talent.

Also, one of the greatest athletes in the world, Michael Jordan, couldn’t make it on the diamond, but was tremendous on the hardwood.

Why do the scouting directors continually believe that tools will bring benefits?

They mostly won’t.

That is just as bad as drafting someone based upon “upside.”

4) Draft Eligible Sophomore’s – Go for the Gusto!

The Yankees took the best college closer in the 2006 draft in the 17th round.

Yes, I said the 17th round! Then David Robertson, who closed at the University of Alabama, went on the win MVP of the prestigious Cape Cod Summer Baseball League.

Then he signed for well above slot money for a chance at pro baseball.

Why did the Yankees get such a talent in the 17th round and why did they have to give him earlier round money?

He was a draft eligible sophomore (DES), a four-year college player who turned 21 within 45 days of the draft. The reason why many DES are not taken is signability, as they have negotiating leverage with the selecting team.

Because they have the opportunity to go back to school for their junior year and re-enter the draft the next summer, DES have more negotiating leverage than most college draftees.

That is why teams must give much bigger bonuses to these selections.

But these DES are well worth the money and investment.

The talent is there. Go get them.

5) Draft Committed Major High School Talent In Later Rounds

The Yankees have done a great job at this.

They target major high school talent which has been committed to major Universities. Guys who have pretty much said they will go to college.

Taking these guys in much later rounds and giving them well above bonus money (many times into the high six figures to over a million bucks), could translate into getting that committed guy to sign to go pro.

The Yankees did this with Dellin Betances in 2006 (Vanderbilt), Carmen Angelini in 2007 (Rice) and Garrison Lassiter 2009 (North Carolina).

While these three examples have not yet materialized for the Yankees, it is good if the major league team hits on one of these.

This also works in taking high first round types who might fall into the late first round due to their college commitment.

They also took Gerrit Cole low in the first round in 2008 (he was a top five type player), knowing he was going to be a difficult signing, and Cole ended up going to college at UCLA.

While that did not work for the Yankees, this tactic did work for the Detroit Tigers who selected consensus first overall pick Rick Porcello with the 27th pick in the 2007 draft.

Porcello dropped due to his commitment to North Carolina and his advisor being Scott Boras.

Just like when a football player drops for unknown reasons, take the best talent.

If a top pick falls into your lap, draft him. It will only cost money.

6) If Thinking Long Term, Draft High End Prep Talent

Going over the 2001-2006 drafts, the numbers reveal that 35 of the 76 players drafted out of high school in the first round have reached the major leagues.

And a couple more are right on the doorstep.

That equals 46 percent, and includes some great names such as Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley and some guy named Joe Mauer.

College first round picks totaled 103 during this span with 45 making the major leagues. That equates to 44 percent, a smaller percentage than high school talent.

But 88 percent of that high school talent which made the majors were starting pitchers or everyday players compared to 79 percent of the college talent.

While high school talent takes longer to reach the majors, the results are well worth it, especially for teams which have the time and patience for the maturation process.

7) Draft Heavy in Key Positions Most Other Teams Need

Most teams need up the middle positions. They are the backbone to a team’s defense.

Guys who are steady glove men at these historically defense-oriented positions who can also rake are the ultimate prized possessions.

That is why Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer were two of the best draft picks ever. Both the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins received tremendous offensive production and good defense at the shortstop and catching positions.

Most teams do not have a good major league catcher who is adequate defensively but can also hit.

The Yankees have stockpiled catchers in their system with drafting Austin Romine and JR Murphy but also signing Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez to International free agent contracts.

When Mauer went down with an injury in early May, the Twins called up 22-year-old Wilson Ramos, who provided adequate support behind the plate.

The Yankees also have an abundance of pretty good second basemen in their system who can play the field and hit for average and gradually improving power.

They also have about 15 good arms in their minor league starting rotations, highlighted by Zach McAllister at Triple A, David Phelps at Double A and Adam Warren and Graham Stoneburner at High A Tampa.

The major league club has Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli manning the plate, Robinson Cano shackled at second base and 60 percent of their starting rotation signed at least through 2011.

The possibility of another free agent pitcher signing next year exists when Cliff Lee becomes available.

Since all other teams needs up the middle personnel, the extra catchers, second basemen and starting pitchers provide adequate trade chips for the major league team to trade for needed talent at other positions.

The Twins have that same issue with their young catcher who could be turned into a key piece for the 2010 pennant chase.

Keep the backbone strong and the body will take care of itself.

8) Unless a Top Five Type of Pick, Avoid Prep Pitchers

I believe maturity is the biggest issue here.

Once a top prep pitcher is taken and signs, it is probably the riskiest pick type in the baseball draft.

Within the age years of 17-22, the biggest increase in maturity exists for young men. This is the time period where they could be drafted into the armed services, they can legally drink alcohol and they become more physically able to withstand the rigors of more stress.

Stress of the pro baseball scene in both the physical and mental aspects.

Taking a kid out of high school and putting him cross-country into an instructional league, then full season baseball can lead to more blowups than any other type of drafted product.

And with pitching being the prime baseball position, if these types blow up it can push back a franchise several years.

The recent drafts have produced some pretty good young prep pitchers such as Zach Greinke, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Phil Hughes, Chad Billingsley, and Clayton Kershaw.

What those guys all have is a tremendous secondary pitch to complement a pretty good fastball. High school hitters can’t catch up to the good fastball, but pro hitters can.

These prep pitchers need a good second pitch to succeed, and if it takes a few years to develop one, the confidence level and commitment can waiver for the teenager.

But unless the maturity level is already there, for every Cain, Hamels and Greinke there is a Jeff Allison, Chris Gruler, and Clint Everts, plus many more unrefined prepsters.

Even Greinke contemplated quitting baseball at the age of 20 because of anxiety issues.

The maturity level is simply not there to take such a gamble.

9) If Thinking You Need to Win Soon, Draft College Talent

The Washington Nationals had begun to build a pretty good young team prior to the 2009 draft.

They had a cornerstone position player in Ryan Zimmerman, and a bevy of young arms ready to get major league experience. They weren’t ace material, but the talent was there.

The team needed an ace to eventually carry the staff, and the Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg No. 1 overall. He has done nothing to make the team worry about its pick in dominating every level thus far, now one step from the major leagues.

The Nationals also had another pick in that 2009 draft and selected the best relief pitcher available, projecting him to reach the majors very quickly.

Drew Storen, drafted 10th overall, has arrived in the majors and has already helped to fortify the Nationals bullpen, ranked last in baseball in 2009.

With the Nationals ready to draft another college player No. 1 overall in the upcoming 2010 draft, they might begin to contend as early as 2011.

Tim Lincecum made the same impact on the San Francisco Giants less than two-year after being drafted, as did Evan Longoria and David Price for the Tampa Bay Rays, Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies plus Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz of the Baltimore Orioles.

No less than eight college drafted players from the 2008 draft have made it to the major leagues.

The college players are more polished, much more mature and ready to produce now in the majors.

And with the 24 hour news cycle available to all people, many teams feel the need to win now.

10) Don’t Cheapen Out

Set aside lots of cash for the draft. And spend it.

There are many instances where teams with money issues have cheapened out on their top pick, taking a player of lesser talent, with that player being easier to sign.

It will cost less in bonus money to sign lesser talent. But you get lesser talent than what is available.

The prime example of this tactic was when the San Diego Padres decided not to pay Justin Verlander’s big money demands when he was coming out of Old Dominion University.

Armed with a 99 MPH fastball and good command, Verlander was easily the best player in that draft, and his success thus far in his major league career has confirmed that suspicion.

Instead of taking the sure-thing Verlander, the Padres decided to go cheap, taking a very immature prep player named Matt Bush No. 1 overall in the 2004 draft.

(Remember our rule earlier about immaturity in high school kids)

Interestingly, while the Padres thought Verlander’s money demands were going to be very steep and out of their price range, Bush actually received a slightly higher bonus than did Verlander.

Too many teams can not compete with the big market clubs in the signing of available big-money free agents and are never able to trade for established stars already making lots of money.

The way these smaller market teams can compete is with the draft, not having to compete with other teams like the Red Sox and Yankees on players they draft.

Highly drafted players demand large multi-million dollar signing bonuses. That is a fact which is likely not going to go away.

Those who reach the majors pay for themselves as they are under team control at much reduced salary structure, while producing at the major league level.

That is saving money in the long run.

There is an old money adage that says, “You need to spend money in order to make money.” Many large companies need to invest in Research and Development in order to create many new products.

Baseball teams need to invest in highly prized drafted players in order to put a good major league team on the field.

But word is that many organizations this year will punt on certain players, and less talented kids in order to save money in bonuses.

Teams that win in the draft do not skimp on signing bonuses or punt on the best players available.

New York Yankees Promote J.R. Murphy To Low A Charleston

May 18, 2010

The Yankees second round draft pick last season, J.R. Murphy left extended spring training and played tonight for the Low A Charleston RiverDogs.

The RiverDogs were playing in Rome, GA against the Low A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

The 6’0″, 190 lb Murphy was the designated hitter and ended up 1-3, with a double, RBI and struck out twice.

While drafted as a catcher, and currently part of the long pecking order of highly-rated Yankees catching prospects, I feel Murphy’s greatest value to the team is likely as a rightfielder.

Why? Well, despite a great throwing arm, Murphy’s biggest baseball asset is his offense, specifically the ability to consistently hit the ball hard. He also has what Baseball America ranked as the “second best strike zone awareness” of all high school draft picks last season.

Murphy played high school baseball at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, where he burst on the scene with a stellar senior season. He led his team in virtually every statistical category.

I have not yet seen Murphy, but will be planning a trip very soon to witness a few of his games. According to a variety of scouting reports, Murphy has excellent strike zone and pitch recognition, which are the keys to hitting at higher levels.

The ability to recognize pitches, like off speed pitches moving out of the zone is extremely key to getting into good hitting counts. Then getting and attacking good hittable pitches is the key to producing runs.

Murphy is extremely patient as well, working deep into counts and selectively picking pitches he can drive. According to the reports, he uses the whole field, taking all types of pitches the other way. His compact and short swing lets the ball travel deep in the zone where his quickness can turn on a good inside fastball.

As a young hitter gets to higher levels and the fastballs become more precise, many players have a tough time catching up with the good, accurate heat. Murphy appears to be very good at making good contact on this pitch. 

He is a gap to gap hitter right now, probably more of a doubles guy than a true home run threat. But all hitters are not created equal. While Jesus Montero at the same age was pounding home runs in large amounts, Murphy still has time to grow and will eventually hit home runs.

Murphy was an outfielder before being converted to catcher due to his really strong throwing arm. However, during his first taste of professional baseball, Murphy was used by the Yankees primarily at DH for several reasons.

First, the Yankees have a pretty good group of young catching prospects with Montero, Austin Romine, 2009 international signee Gary Sanchez plus 2008 draft pick Kyle Higashioka. They do not need to rush Murphy up the catching ladder.

In addition, a young guy in the Bronx named Francisco Cervelli has done pretty well thus far in his major league career.

Second, Murphy missed all of his junior year in high school due to knee surgery and the Yankees are probably wanting to take some wear and tear off the knees.

Third, I really do not believe Murphy is destined to be a catcher. Besides the strong arm, he has below average skills in blocking balls and knowing the nuances of the position.

The Yankees are so loaded at catcher with Cervelli, Romine (the real next decade guy), Montero and Sanchez that Murphy’s bat will eventually land in right field.

Some people are saying it would be wise to keep Murphy behind the plate to enhance his value. Value for what, a trade? His value is in the bat he swings, not the position he plays. If you need value for a trade, why sign him to double slot money?

Murphy is wisely being introduced to the pro game very slowly, allowing him to concentrate on the one aspect he knows very well—hitting.

The Yankees will watch closely how Muphy’s hitting tools of plate discipline and pitch recognition translate to a full (almost full for JR) season against better competition.

Former Yankee #1 Pick Gerrit Cole Begins His Collegiate Career

March 17, 2009

New York Yankee 2008 first round draft pick Gerrit Cole, who spurned Yankee fortunes for the collegiate life in Southern California has begun his career at UCLA on a high note. His line was 6 IP, 1H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K’s. He threw 83 pitches or 33 more than the Yankees would have likely allowed him to throw during the first month of spring training.

While the UC Davis team is not setting the world on fire this season, they did make the NCAA Regional tournament last year, and had seven players taken in last year’s amateur draft.

A week later, Cole took the mound again for the 9th ranked Bruins in the Houston Classic against the #6 rated Baylor Bears. Cole line of 6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 8 K’s were equally impressive as they came against a much better club, and was in front of almost 14,000 fans.

He has not allowed an earned run in 12 innings over his two starts.

Cole threw 104 pitches, which combined with the 83 he threw in his first start, would have exceeded all the pitches the Yankees would have allocated for him this entire 2009 season. And this just in…Cole’s arm has not yet fallen off!

It is interesting that in his bio, Cole mentions that he admires Lou Gehrig and Mariano Rivera. If that is true, then why not sign with the Yankees?

One thing that is true is that Cole, as well as many other Yankee minor league pitchers would likely not be major league material for quite some time. With Sabathia, Burnett, Wang and Chamberlain entrenched in the rotation, Cole (if he signed) as well as Brackman, Betances, Hughes, Kennedy, Aceves, Kontos, McAllister etc would be vying for one spot over the next three years.

But the Yankees did not sign Cole, and taking the flier on the proverbial #1 ace starter did not return the expected results. What if they did? What if Cole did sign, worked out a little in Tampa and was assigned to short season Staten Island in the New York Penn League? What if he then started 15 games for the Baby Bombers and went 8-2 with a 2.72 ERA, striking out 52 in 72 IP?

Would the average Yankee fan be happy with those numbers? I know I would.

Those numbers, however, were put up last season by David Phelps, the Yankees 14th round draft pick in 2008 out of Notre Dame. He is a good control artist who is very efficient with his vast repertoire of pitches – think Andy Sonnanstine. I am not saying that Phelps will turn into a Major League 14 game winner like Sonnanstine, but while Phelps is not overpowering like Cole, he is a kid who can throw well and win games, so what is not to like?

The Yankees know how to draft – they just don’t know how to use the top starters they do draft and develop.

So, the best thing for the Yankees to do is use the extra pick this season they did get for not signing Cole to pick the best available position player. Since it appears they are OK with organizational pitching depth, the Yankees might want to pick a stud third baseman or power hitting outfielder.

Best way to Build an MLB Team? Draft and Develop or Free Agency?

December 27, 2007

All the talk of Tony Romo, Jessica Simpson and T.O. (the Player), the New England Patriots drive for perfection, last minute Christmas shopping and the final playoff rush in the NFL has temporarily pushed the MLB hot stove league talk to the side burner.

Although the rampant speculation has subsided, and Dan Haren has been traded, there are still two Grade A pitchers available via trade: Minnesota’s Johan Santana and Baltimore’s Erik Bedard.

Luckily for those two guys, they were not named in the Mitchell Report or fans would be clamoring to have their records expunged. If one or both (or even none!) of these guys are traded before the 2008 season, each scenario would have a big impact on the division races.

While Santana and Bedard would arrive on their new team via trade, both could become free agents within a year (Santana) or two (Bedard) unless a long term deal can be reached. Any agreement to a long-term deal with Santana or Bedard essentially makes them “free agent” signings, with the added insult of giving away 3 or more young players.

Oh, the lack of patience of the major league teams with young players!

For Santana, the New York Yankees are dangling youngsters Philip Hughes, Melky Cabrera and a lower-level pitching prospect. The Boston Red Sox are considering sending three youngsters plus Coco Crisp to Minnesota, while the New York Mets might be willing to trade three or four (maybe more!) of their top young prospects.

Imagine, all that talent going out the door just for the privilege of spending $120 million dollars for Santana or slightly less on Bedard.

Why do teams continually want other teams’ players instead of developing their own talent? Why didn’t any teams want Bedard after the 2005 season when he was only 6-8, coming off a 6-10 season a year earlier? Where were the pro scouts for other organizations in their analyis of this kid?

Bedard is desired now because the Orioles allowed him to develop as a pitcher.

Late in 2007 much of the focus in the New York area was on the collapse of the New York Mets. Despite the Mets’ woes and the Philadelphia Phillies surge, the most interesting race might have been in the National League Central division. Why?

This race between the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs showed the two methods of building a team going head-to-head.

For the last month of the 2007 season, the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs waged a seesaw battle for first place, with both teams having to fight off the pitching deprived, but pesky St. Louis Cardinals for much of August. Both the Brewers and Cubs had minor leads in the division, with the Brewers actually “plummeting” to third place for a short while.

The Cubs eventually won the Division and advanced to the playoffs before the inept pitching decisions of Lou Piniella likely cost them the series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

But what really interests me is how both those teams were constructed. The Cubs stocked their squad with expensive free agents, with no less than nine players on their roster arriving via the free agent route (plus free agent manager Lou Piniella), while the Brewers forged a winning team through solid drafts–the Smith Barney, old-fashioned way of “earning it.”

The Cubbies only have one position starter (shortstop Ryan Theriot) and two starting pitchers (Rich Hill and Sean Marshall) who were drafted by the franchise. Before the 2007 season the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to an 8 year/$136 million dollar contract and pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis to high-dollar contracts. 

In addition, the Cubs took on the hefty salary of catcher Jason Kendall ($13MM per year) – one of the most unproductive offensive position players in recent memory, all the while 24-year-old Triple-A catcher Geovany Soto was awaiting his opportunity. In two strong moves several years ago however, the Cubs traded for offensive stalwarts Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

While starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano was signed as an amateur free agent and has been with the organization since being acquired, most every other starting player was signed away from another team.

The Brew Crew, meanwhile, can boast of having either a first or second round draft pick from 1999 through 2005 starting in the field or on the mound. In fact, their entire 2007 starting infield of Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun were all first or second round picks, as were starting pitchers Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo.

Many scouts feel Gallardo has better “stuff” than even the aforementioned Phil Hughes of the Yankees. In addition, starters Bill Hall (6th round) and Corey Hart (11th round) also made significant contributions in 2007.

If you included former 1995 first round pick Geoff Jenkins to the mix, there were seven former top picks making major contributions to the Brewers run for a division title. (Jenkins has since signed as a free-agent with the Philadelphia Phillies.)

Chicago’s 2007 total salary was approximately $105 million, roughly 50% above Milwaukee’s approximate total of $72MM. Was this salary gap worth the 2007 Central Division title and quick first-round exit in the playoffs? The Cubs have since continued their feeding frenzy in the free agent market by signing Japanese OF Kosuke Fukudome to a four year, $48 million contract.

Is Chicago’s future brighter or are the Brewers, despite not making the playoffs in 2007, better prepared for the future? What is the best way to build a team? The draft and develop route or the free agent market?

If you want to win championships, draft and develop. It has been proven time and time again.  

Since 1970 when Curt Flood challenged Major League Baseball’s reserve clause, and became Major League Baseball’s first official free agent, there have been hundreds of high priced free agent acquisitions…but only a handful of FA signings have helped a franchise improve enough to win a championship.

In 1974, the Yankees were second in the AL East and signed Jim “Catfish” Hunter to the first big free agent contract. Two years later, the Yankees won the American League pennant. The following off-season, the same Yankees signed “the straw that stirs the drink,” bringing in Reggie Jackson to a power-starved lineup.

The Yankees moved on to win the World Series in 1977 primarily due to Reggie’s largesse, but the teams nucleus were bred from the draft (Thurman Munson, Roy White and Ron Guidry) and shrewd trades for young talented players (Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers).

The Yankees were a team on the brink and both Hunter and Jackson, the established veterans, put the franchise over the top. In 1978, the Yankees brought in another high-priced free agent, Rich Gossage, and the Bronx Bombers won a second straight title.

Since the glory days of thirty years ago, however, the Yankees’ free agent signings have largely been busts. From Britt Burns, Steve Kemp, Danny Tartabull and Don Gullett to the most recent signings of Jason Giambi, Carl Pavano and even Johnny Damon, the Yankees have basically thrown money away since they have not won a World Series title since 2000.

During the 2007 season, the Yankees’ surge was sparked by Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and young pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, all products of the now talent-laden farm system. Sorry Yankee haters, but this bodes well for the franchise’s future.

And the Yankees want to trade several of these kids away?

In 1990 the Atlanta Braves also had a strong nucleus of young players built through the draft with David Justice, Jeff Blauser, Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery, plus a great trade three years prior for a young John Smoltz. That 1990 season brought a last place finish in the National League Western division with the team taken over mid-season by Bobby Cox.

In the off season they signed free agent Terry Pendleton to provide much needed leadership. All Pendleton did was win the NL MVP award, leading the young Braves to the World Series. This signing paved the way for the Braves to dominate for the next two decades, highlighted by a World Series victory in 1995, where another free agent signing (Greg Maddux) helped anchor that impressive young pitching staff.

Some could also point out that when the Florida Marlins signed Pudge Rodriguez prior to the 2003 season, his defensive prowess helped solidify a very young pitching staff. The Marlins went from fourth in the National League East in 2002 to World Series Champions during Pudge’s first year.

However, these instances are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the hundreds of major free agent signings almost never result in the ultimate goal – winning championships. Sure, a big signing might produce big numbers for the player and make the General Manager look good, but if the team does not reach the playoffs and a title isn’t won, is the signing worth the money spent? Or would the money be better spent drafting and developing young talent?

Since free agency started, all the mini-dynasties have occurred via draft and develop. Practically all the players from the 1971-1974 Oakland A’s were drafted and developed, as were Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the mid 1970’s.  In both organizations, those players who weren’t drafted were acquired via trades like pitcher Ken Holtzman for the A’s and Joe Morgan for the Reds.

The mini-dynasty the Yankees had in the late 1990’s was the result of home grown talent in Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, plus trading for younger players entering their prime, such as Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson.

Do any of the Major League general managers notice this trend? I say some do, but most do not. Most GMs would rather make a big splash for the media and the fans by signing a free agent rather than developing a prospect. Go ahead Omar Minaya, sign Kyle Lohse to a four year deal for $40 million. You will get your 200 innings, but you will also likely get your sub-.500 record. You can probably get that in 2008 from Philip Humber, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Mulvey or any combination of the three – for a lot less money! 

Teams want the “quick fix” via free agency, but many recent draft picks have the talent to be promoted to the majors very quickly, providing winning baseball AND lowering salaries. Jacoby Ellsbury, John Lester and Jonathan Papelbon are three recent draftees who helped the Boston Red Sox to the 2007 World Series title. These young players can then be signed for longer term deals a few years later, deals historically at lower than market rates, further saving money for the team.

Current teams poised for long term stability and success are those teams which utilized young talent down the stretch such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, those young Milwaukee Brewers and even the New York Yankees. These are all teams which have an abundance of farm-raised talent in their starting lineups.

Even though the 2007 Brewers missed out on the playoffs, this franchise, rather than the Chicago Cubs, is headed in the right direction to win long term. Fielder, Weeks, Hardy, Braun, Gallardo, Sheets and Hart should be with the team for quite some time.

Also, the Brewers’ 2007 1st round pick, power-hitting Matt LaPorta, did very well in the minor leagues and projects to be in the majors by 2009, if not sooner. A double whammy is that LaPorta was drafted by the Cubs several years ago but opted to go college instead. So while Soriano, Lilly and Marquis are the quick fixes, the Cubs likely will not win a World Series title any time soon and would be better off developing their own talent. 

Keeping your own players reduces yearly salaries, establishes confidence with fans over home-grown talent and builds tradition within your organization. Teams should save their money on expensive free agents just so they can “give me 200 innings” or “hit us 35 home runs,” as very few teams actually buy their way to World Series titles.  

The Orioles had patience and allowed Erik Bedard to develop, similar to the Atlanta Braves giving a young Tom Glavine time to prosper. Those teams looking to trade 3 or 4 prospects for Bedard might be better off keeping their players and having their own version of Bedard in a couple of years.

As a Yankee fan I am willing to be patient. I want Chamberlain, Kennedy and Hughes to content to be in next year’s rotation. They may not win the World Series, or heaven forbid, make the playoffs for one season, but allowing these three guys to pitch together for a full season would benefit in future years.

The pattern of drafting and developing your own talent is tried and true and provides for long term success for the franchise and the fans. Those General Managers who see this trend (like Doug Melvin of the Brewers) will keep their jobs, while those GMs (Omar Minaya?) who don’t open their eyes will be looking for employment.