Monday, October 12, 2009

What to Watch in the Arizona Fall League

Likely no prospect in AZFL history has debuted with more anticipation than Strasburg

With Arizona Fall League play set to get underway on Tuesday, I thought it would be a good opportunity to highlight the most compelling stories to look for in this year’s play. With the demise of the Hawaiian Winter League, the AZFL has more top tier talent than in any season in recent memory—especially top quality arms, including five first round selections from this past June’s draft. Additionally, the 2010 AZFL will mark the professional debuts of the top two picks from that class. While we will get to see Dustin Ackley for the first time since he went on a one-man post-season crusade last spring, the collective eyes of the baseball world will be placing under a microscope, every pitch thrown by uber-prospect Stephen Strasburg. Without further ado, here are the top twenty stories we will be watching over the next few weeks…

20 ) Jose Iglesias, SS, BOS (Mesa Solar Sox): Off of his listed age (19), Iglesias is the youngest player in the league. The Red Sox signed him to a bonus that was higher than many had expected, and it will be interesting to get an idea as to how close to Major League ready he is. He is purported to be an excellent defender, but we will be watching his bat.

19) Jennry Mejia, RHP, NYM (Surprise Rafters): Few pitchers in the Minor Leagues helped their stock more this year than did the 20yo, Mejia. After destroying Florida State (FSL) League hitters, he did encounter some control issues after his promotion to Binghamton. A strong AZFL showing will cement his spot in the prospect Top 100 lists, and could make him a top 50 choice.

18) Hank Conger, C, LAA (Mesa Solar Sox): Conger did much this summer to show that he was healthy, and that he still has a chance at sticking as a big league backstop. But whether the 20yo is going to displace Jeff Mathis from the roster, or shift Mike Napoli into a DH role will depend on the improvement in his defensive game over the next year. In Mesa, Conger could get a chance to see about 50% of the catching duties of a staff led by Andrew Miller, Andrew Cashner and Tommy Mendoza, it will be important to see how he handles the staff, as well as how well he moves behind the plate.

17) Derek Norris, C, WSN (Phoenix Desert Dogs): Norris tired considerably toward the end of his first year in full season ball, so it is somewhat surprising to see the Nationals giving him additional work in the AZFL. The 20yo, will also be one of the younger players in the league and it won’t be surprising to see him somewhat over his head. But the intriguing part, is that playing in Phoenix could get him some valuable work with Strasburg and Storen, who could be his future battery mates in Washington--as soon as 2011.

16) Daryl Jones, OF, STL (Surprise Rafters): Jones looked poised to have a big 2009 season before he was derailed in May by a quad injury. He rushed back, and never looked the same all year. Jones should be healthy now and a strong AZFL showing will put him back on track.

15) Andrew Cashner, RHP, CHN (Mesa Solar Sox): Cashner may be the most enigmatic player from the 2008 draft, as he was abysmal in his 2008 debut, but looked like a solid prospect for most of this past summer. The real question with Cashner is whether or not he will be a major league starter or merely a middle reliever, as his 4.8 innings per start, ranked last in the Southern (SOL) League for starters who started in more than 80% of their 2009 appearances.

14) Matt Harrison, LHP, TEX (Surprise Rafters): After looking like a solid back of the rotation starter in 2008, Harrison’s 2009 season was derailed by thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. We expect Harrison to have an above average Major League career, and we will be expecting him to be one of the better pitchers in Arizona this fall. With that, he should be in line for a rotation spot in Texas in 2010.

13) Andrew Miller, LHP, FLA (Mesa Solar Sox): Speaking of enigmatic players, at times, Miller looks like a future Major League ace, and at other times, he struggles to find the plate so badly that he looks like a major bust. Remember the Tigers selected Miller ahead of both Kershaw and Lincecum in 2006, and at Diamond Futures, we still believe strongly in Miller and will be looking for him to regain both his confidence and control in Mesa, setting up a breakout 2010 in Florida.

12) Yonder Alonso, 1B, CIN (Peoria Saguaros): The Reds will be facing significant organizational decisions in 2010, as Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, Juan Francisco, and Yonder Alonso all look to be competing for what appears to be two spots( 1B and LF), by the end of the 2010 season. Unless Votto is dealt to maintain control over cheaper players, it could be three players competing for one spot. Alonso looks to be the front runner at this point, but he will have to show the ability to hit left-handers, and that will be our focus during the AZFL.

11) Josh Fields, RP, SEA (Peoria Javelins): Fields was arguably the best relief pitcher prospect available in the 2008 draft, but an extended contract negotiation kept him off the field for nearly 9 months, and when he returned this spring, he battled nagging injuries for most of the year and looked anything but the pitcher that the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him to a $1,750,000 bonus. We have strong reservations about Fields, but the Mariners made him the 20th overall selection based on his ability to be nearly Major League ready. For us, Fields will need to have a huge AZFL to re-establish him as a big-time prospect.

10) Dayan Viciedo, 3B/1B, CHA (Peoria Javelins): The one thing that seems to be consistent about Cuban defectors, is that they seem to need a period of adjustment when joining the American game. For Alexi Ramirez it was about two months for Kendry Morales it was about three years. Remember that when you analyze the 20yo’s .270/.302/.372 for the first three months of the season, vs. his .313/.350.464 after the all-star break. With a solid AZFL showing, especially with pitch recognition and in the power department, and a good Spring, Viciedo could be in line for a big league job by mid-season 2010.

9) Drew Storen, RP, WSN (Phoenix Desert Dogs): Honestly we thought the Nationals reached when they selected Storen at #10 overall last June, given that his change was mediocre at best, his fastball seemed difficult to control in the mid-90s, and his only other pitch being a power slider. So all that Storen did, was limit opposing hitters to a .162 Average against, while fanning 49, in his fantastic 37 inning professional debut. While Storen only issued 8 walks, 6 of those came in his 12 Eastern (ESL) League innings, so what we will be looking for in Arizona is proof that he can still control his fastball when it is thrown in the mid-90s. If he can, he should become the Nationals’ closer sometime in 2010.

8) Mike Minor, LHP, ATL (Peoria Saguaros): Despite being the best collegiate left-hander in the 2009 draft, we were extremely surprised when Atlanta grabbed Minor with the #8 overall selection. Nonetheless, Minor was nearly unhittable in 4 South Atlantic (SAL) starts after signing, posting a 17:0 K:BBratio in 14 innings. The test in Arizona will be to demonstrate continued dominance against more advanced hitters. If he passes, look for Minor to open 2010 in AA and be on the fast track to the Majors.

7) Jason Heyward, OF, ATL (Peoria Saguaros): There were many who expected to see the 20yo Heyward in Atlanta in September, but the Braves showed the appropriate discretion by not calling him up. Heyward is undoubtedly one of the top 3 prospects in baseball, and arguable #1. He has plenty of time to reach his vast potential, and we don’t expect this AZFL challenge to do anything more than to further lay the foundation for what is likely a May call-up to Atlanta.

6) Buster Posey, C, SFG (Scottsdale Scorpions): The most interesting thing to watch regarding Posey may not be his AZFL performance, as much as whether or not the Giants resign Benji Molina. The AZFL shouldn’t provide him any significant challenge, but should give him a chance to put into action anything he learned in his brief big league stint as bullpen caddy. While we can’t predict what the Giants will do, we’d start 2010 with Posey as our everyday catcher.

5) Dominic Brown, OF, PHI, (Scottsdale Scorpions): Brown is one of those players where you risk your reputation as a talent evaluator, because we at Diamond futures don’t think as highly of him as most seem to. It’s not that we don’t think he is a legitimate prospect, as he is certain to be in our Top 100, and likely to be even in the Top 50, but we don’t see the superstardom for him as others do. While others have called him the next Daryl Strawberry, we see Brown as an eventual .280AVG/.800 OPS hitter with 20 home runs and 25 SBs. That is a solid big league career. We will be looking to see if the 22yo will be able to best his .801 OPS performance from the ESL.

4) Mike Leake, RHP, CIN (Peoria Saguaros): Leake probably gets the least respect for his talent than of any collegiate pitchers taken in the 2009 draft. He was unquestionably the best performer not named Strasburg in the 2009 collegiate season and will be making his professional debut in Arizona. The key to watching Leake is to see if he is able to continue to over achieve his physical attributes with a solid array of pitches, excellent control, and a fierce mental makeup.

3) Dustin Ackley, OF/1B, SEA (Scottsdale Scorpions): We liked Ackley coming into the 2009 collegiate season, but we fell in love with him after he put on an unbelievable post season show, beginning with the ACC tournament. Ackley uses a smooth stroke and incredible plate discipline to take just what the opposing pitchers give him. He will make his professional debut in Arizona, and the key things to watch will be how much time he gets in the OF and how much power he demonstrates. People like to throw out comps, and for Ackley we see a better Nick Markakis, that is somewhere between a Darin Erstad and a J.D. Drew. His upside may even be higher. While we don’t expect to see him in Seattle before September, he should be an opening day starter in 2011.

2) Tanner Scheppers, RHP, TEX (Surprise Rafters): While the Rangers are sending a lot of their top pitching talent to the Venezuelan Winter League, with Gutierrez, Harrison, and Scheppers, the Ranger fans will find plenty to watch in the AZFL. Regular readers will remember that on the eve of the 2009 draft, we felt Scheppers was a top 10 talent and could be the second pitcher taken. While there is no question that he will always have an injury question surrounding him, we can’t help but feel that, if healthy, he is a front of the rotation talent. We will be focused on how much rust he has since he has not throwing regularly since the spring of 2008, and are there any signs at all of lingering shoulder issues.

1) Stephen Strasburg, RHP, WSN (Phoenix Desert Dogs): Everyone is aware of his numbers in college, and the fact that he signed the largest draft bonus ever. He has been described as a “once in a generation” talent, and now carries the weight of an entire franchise without ever throwing a professional pitch. The 21yo will make his professional debut in Arizona, probably with more fanfare than any player to ever grace an AZFL lineup. Don’t expect the Nationals to be overly taxing on him in the AZFL, but this should be an excellent first step before 2010 Spring Training, and what is likely to be a spot in the opening day rotation.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Diamond Futures Retrospective: The 2000 Top 100

While Ankiel has become a reasonably decent big league hitter, it was his arm that vaulted him to the top of the 2000 list

Following the 1999 season, we produced our first Top 100 list, utilizing the changes to our process that came about in 1998. While over the last decade, we have made ‘tweaks’ here and there to what we do (the weightings are slightly different, we use standard deviations to our age variables, and our variables have changed slightly), it is mostly the same process that we have been using for over a decade. With baseball entering its ‘down’ season for ‘prospecting’, I thought it would be good to look back at the list that we produced in February of 2000. Incidentally, it was this list that led to our first on-line prospect writing ‘gig’.

While I would gladly stack our prospect analysis against anyone in the business, I thought we would use this exercise to see just how difficult forecasting prospect success actually is. We had our successes: as Jimmy Rollins at #18 was considerably higher than any other list, and few people were as excited about Miguel Cabrera as we were—despite his signing for a $1.9 million bonus that summer. In all there are 13 players from this list that have gone on to have what would have to be considered ‘star’ caliber careers. Additionally, there are another 29 players on the list that have become solid ‘regulars’ in the Major Leagues. So all totaled, 42% of the players have achieved, what would have to be considered, Big League success. The problem comes in the other group, where 50% have had careers that have ranged from ‘a cup of coffee’ to ‘reserve level’ and 8 players, led by former Mariners’ first round pick, Ryan Anderson, never played a day at the Major League level. So keep this in mind this winter, when you start to see the 2010 lists come out.

Here is the complete list:

1 ) Rick Ankiel , LHP , STL
2 ) Vernon Wells , CF , TOR
3 ) Nick Johnson , 1B , NYY
4 ) Josh Hamilton , OF , TBD
5 ) Josh Beckett , RHP , FLA
6 ) Ruben Mateo , OF , TEX
7 ) Michael Cuddyer , 3B , MIN
8 ) Brad Penny , RHP , FLA
9 ) Sean Burroughs , 3B , SDP
10 ) Dee Brown , LF , KCR
11 ) Ryan Anderson , LHP , SEA
12 ) Ben Sheets , RHP , MIL
13 ) Matt Riley , LHP , BAL
14 ) Eric Munson , C/1B , DET
15 ) Barry Zito , LHP , OAK
16 ) Chin-Feng Chen , OF , SEA
17 ) Corey Patterson , CF , CHN
18 ) Jimmy Rollins , SS , PHI
19 ) Pat Burrell , LF , PHI
20 ) Hee Seop Choi , 1B , CHN
21 ) D'Angelo Jimenez , 2B/SS , NYY
22 ) Wilfredo Rodriguez , LHP , HOU
23 ) Chris Snelling , OF , SEA
24 ) Francisco Rodriguez , RHP , Ana
25 ) Gookie Dawkins , SS , CIN
26 ) Daryle Ward , OF/1B , HOU
27 ) Carlos Guillen , SS , SEA
28 ) John Stephens , RHP , BAL
29 ) C.C. Sabathia , LHP , CLE
30 ) Dannys Baez , RHP , TBD
31 ) Brett Myers , RHP , PHI
32 ) Byung-Hyun Kim , RHP , ARZ
33 ) Ben Petrick , C , COL
34 ) Milton Bradley , OF , MTL
35 ) Marcus Giles , 2B , ATL
36 ) Jack Cust , OF , ARZ
37 ) Jason Jennings , RHP , COL
38 ) Bruce Chen , LHP , ATL
39 ) Jayson Werth , OF , BAL
40 ) John Patterson , RHP , ARZ
41 ) Carl Crawford , OF , TBD
42 ) Ryan Christianson , C , SEA
43 ) Jason Romano , OF/2B , TEX
44 ) Adam Dunn , LF , CIN
45 ) Kurt Ainsworth , RHP , SFG
46 ) Cesar Izturis , SS , TOR
47 ) Ryan Vogelsong , RHP , SFG
48 ) Lance Berkman , OF , HOU
49 ) Tony Mota , OF , LAD
50 ) Octavio Dotel , RHP , NYM
51 ) Alex Rios , OF , TOR
52 ) Andy Pratt , LHP , TEX
53 ) Miguel Cabrera , 3B/SS , FLA
54 ) Gil Meche , RHP , SEA
55 ) Ricardo Aramboles , RHP , NYY
56 ) Aubrey Huff , 3B , TBD
57 ) Luis Rivas , 2B , MIN
58 ) Wily Aybar , 3B , LAD
59 ) Adam Piatt , OF , OAK
60 ) Randey Dorame , LHP , LAD
61 ) Nick Neugebauer , RHP , MIL
62 ) Drew Henson , 3B , NYY
63 ) Scott Downs , LHP , CHN
64 ) Dicky Gonzalez , RHP , NYM
65 ) Brad Fullmer , 1B , MTL
66 ) Matt Ford , LHP , TOR
67 ) Jerome Williams , RHP , SFG
68 ) Bud Smith , LHP , STL
69 ) Larry Bigbie , OF , BAL
70 ) Chad Harville , RHP , OAK
71 ) Tony Armas , RHP , MTL
72 ) Gary Thomas , OF , OAK
73 ) Tim Hudson , RHP , OAK
74 ) Bobby Bradley , RHP , PIT
75 ) Alex Escobar , OF , NYM
76 ) Brent Abernathy , 2B , TOR
77 ) Michael Restovich , OF , MIN
78 ) Carlos Lee , LF , CHA
79 ) B.J. Garbe , OF , MIN
80 ) Ramon Ortiz , RHP , ANA
81 ) Orber Moreno , RHP , KCR
82 ) Russell Branyan , 3B , CLE
83 ) Alex Fernandez , OF , SEA
84 ) Dan Reichert , RHP , KCR
85 ) Kyle Snyder , RHP , KCR
86 ) Randy Wolf , LHP , PHI
87 ) Chad Hermansen , OF , PIT
88 ) Ruben Quevedo , RHP , CHN
89 ) Maicer Izturis , SS/2B , CLE
90 ) Jesus Colome , RHP , OAK
91 ) Pat Strange , RHP , NYM
92 ) Erubiel Durazo , 1B , ARZ
93 ) Jon Garland , RHP , CHA
94 ) Ben Christensen , RHP , CHN
95 ) Javier Vazquez , RHP , MTL
96 ) Luis Matos , CF , BAL
97 ) Adam Kennedy , 2B , STL
98 ) Ramon Santiago , SS , DET
99 ) Rowand Aaron , OF , CHA
100 ) Hinske Eric , 3B , CHN

Monday, October 5, 2009

Diamond Futures Coming Attractions

October –
We have plenty of behind the scenes work taking place in October. We are moving our hosting site and our software this month and because of it, the amount of new content will be somewhat limited. To keep you entertained, starting next week, we will post our previous Top 100 lists, starting from 2000 and moving forward. At the end of the month, we will provide an update to this year’s International signings. We will double post our content at both the current and at our new site for about a month, beginning towards the end of the month, before moving exclusively to our new site in November.

November thru January –
During the third week of November, we will begin publishing our team by team prospect lists, at a rate of two to three per week. We will conclude this in Early February with the Diamond Futures Top 300 List. The culmination of this will be the most extensive prospect list available anywhere on the web.

February –
In February, the season begins in earnest for us at Diamond Futures. We will kick off the month with our 2010 Preseason Draft Top 50 and our ‘Winter Wonders’ list of the top performances from Winter Ball. This will be followed by our Top 300 list. Around the middle of the month we will take a look at the 2010 college baseball season, and this should take us right up to the beginning of Cactus and Grapefruit League play.

Friday, October 2, 2009

2010 Amateur Draft Top 30

Taillon leads a strong group of prep pitchers
With the summer showcase and wood bat leagues complete, it’s time to once again take a look at where things stand for the 2010 Amateur draft. Unfortunately, it is not shaping up to be one of the stronger drafts in recent memory. Any time three of your top 7 players are prep right-handers, things aren’t going to look strong at the top. A lot will have to do with how well Bryce Harper handles the spotlight that will be on him all season. Thus far, Harper has demonstrated the tremendous tools that we have all heard about, in his showcase outings, but has pressed a bit in game situations.

1) Bryce Harper, C, CC of Southern Nevada – Could be once in a decade prep player.
2) Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Louisiana State – Was the second best college pitcher all last season.
3) Jameson Taillon, RHP, The Woodlands HS, Woodlands, TX – Despite the hype given to Harper, and the production provided by Ranaudo, Taillon may still end up as the most coveted player on this list. His ‘stuff’ is better than Turner or Matzek from the 2009 draft.
4) A.J. Cole, RHP, Oviedo HS, Winter Springs, FL – Has pretty much matched Taillon stride for stride.
5) Yordy Cabrera, SS, Lakeland HS, Lakeland, FL – If he outgrows the SS position, his value will take a hit. Still, at the moment he is a man among boys.
6) Christian Colon, SS, Cal State-Fullerton – Was Team USA’s best player this summer
7) Karsten Whitson, RHP, Chipley HS, Chipley, FL – May have the best overall package among prep hurlers
8) Zack Cox, 3B, Arkansas – Arguably the best player on the Cape this summer
9) Deck McGuire, RHP, Georgia Tech – May be the Top pitching prospect in the ACC this season.
10) Bryce Brentz, OF, Middle Tennessee – There are concerns about the length of his swing, but for now we still are bullish on Brentz
11) Chris Sale, LHP, Florida Gulf Coast – Likely the best pitching prospect on the Cape this summer.
12) Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Mississippi – Will need to come up big in the SEC this year to hold this spot.
13) Stetson Allie, RHP, St. Edward HS, Olmsted Falls, OH – Was up and down all summer. When on, his stuff is as good as anyone’s
14) Josh Sale, OF, Bishop Blanchet HS, Seattle – Turned in the best offensive performance at the Area Code games. Sale will be a professional hitter and it will be up to the team that drafts him to figure out where on the diamond he will play.
15) Kris Bryant, 3B/1B, Bonanza HS, Las Vegas, NV – Had a disappointing showing in the Area Code games which further called into question his ability to stay at 3B. There are no questions about his power
16) Kyle Blair, RHP, San Diego – One of the top returning college pitchers from 2009, Blair should get plenty of attention all year long. Had a solid summer on the Cape, but struggles with control at times.
17) James Paxton, LHP, Kentucky - The Blue Jays failed to sign three of their first four picks this summer and I believe letting Paxton go will be the one they regret the most
18) Justin O’Conner, SS, Cowan HS, Muncie, IN – Perhaps the most intriguing player available. O’Connor is extremely ‘heady’ and does everything well—just nothing exceptional.
19) Alex Wimmers, RHP, Ohio State – Closed the 2009 season with a string of dominating performances and was solid on the Cape. With one of the nation’s best curveballs, Wimmers should be the best college player in the Midwest this year and could be the second collegiate pitcher taken
20) Nick Castellanos, 3B, Archbishop McCarthy HS, Davie, FL – Love his bat, but where he goes depends on whether or not you believe he can stay at 3B
21) Brandon Workman, RHP, Texas – Had a disappointing season on the Cape (5.06 ERA) and will need to show more this season to hold this spot
22) Jarrett Parker, OF, Virginia - Had a miserable summer and will need to cut down on Ks to hold this spot
23) Yasmani Grandal, C, Miami (Fla.) – While there are many that feel Micah Gibbs is the best collegiate catcher, we still lean towards Grandal…but it is getting closer.
24) Justin Grimm, RHP, Georgia – Grimm has good late movement on a solid mid-90s fastball and a curve that shows potential. Controlling his offerings though is still a challenge at times. Scouts love his 6’4” frame and will be looking at what he can be, more than what he already is come draft day. Still, he must improve his secondary offerings or will be destined for a future bullpen role
25) Brian Ragira , OF, James Martin HS, Arlington, TX – We love his bat…scouts hate his (lack of) speed
26) Manny Machado, SS, Brito Private HS, Hialeah, FL – There are those that like him better, but unless he stays at SS he won’t be a first round pick, as his bat isn’t strong enough.
27) Derek Dietrich, 3B/SS, Georgia Tech – Had a disappointing showing on the Cape, where they played him at SS—not likely his long-term position
28) Jesse Hahn, RHP, Virginia Tech – Didn’t show much this summer and will need a big season this Spring
29) Austin Wilson, OF, Harvard Westlake HS, North Hollywood, CA – Was one of the best players at the Under Armour game in Chicago and had an impressive Area Code Games performance. Looks to have the toolset of a big-time power hitting OF.
30) Brett Eibner, RHP, Arkansas – Still needs work on his secondary offerings, and we would love to see him play a little less in the field this Spring.

Others to Watch: Chad Bettis, RHP, Texas Tech; Gary Brown, OF, Cal State Fullerton; Drew Cisco, RHP, Mt. Pleasant, SC; Dylan Covey, RHP, Maranatha HS, Pasadena, CA; Kaleb Cowart, RHP, Cook County HS, Adel, GA; Sam Dyson, RHP, South Carolina; Kevin Gausman, RHP, Grandview HS, Aurora, CO; Micah Gibbs, C, Louisiana State; Reggie Golden, OF, Wetumpka HS, Wetumpka, AL; Trey Griffin, OF, Stockbridge, GA; Matt Harvey, RHP, North Carolina; Hunter Morris, 1B, Auburn; A.J. Vanegas, RHP, Redwood Christian HS, Alameda, CA; LeVon Washington, OF, Chipola JuCo-FLA; Anthony Wolters, SS, Rancho Buena Vista HS, Vista, CA