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Smooth it Out
2008-03-04 09:24
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

I caught a couple of innings of Sunday's exhibition game between the Yankees and Phillies--saw Giambi punch a double into the left center field gap, saw Alex Rodriguez just get under one and fly out. I was struck by how, what's the right word?, rusty, the fielding was. Not that it came as a surprise, but it reminded me just how smooth most major league fielders are once the season gets going. How talented they are. The routine plays looked difficult on Sunday.

Also saw Jorge Posada take one off the face mask and Ken Singleton, the YES announcer, said, "First one of the year." I wonder if veteran catchers like Posada are so used to getting banged up by foul balls that they hardly notice it (that is, if it is physically possible to hardly notice getting pounded in the grill), or if he says, "Oy, there's the first one, only a hundred plus more to go." Does it get harder and harder the older you get?

Couple things: Mike Mussina talked about how young pitchers are handled with reporters yesterday.

And, behind the pay wall at ESPN, Rob Neyer links to a recent article by Tyler Kepner about Robinson Cano, and the best deal the Yankees never made:

What's striking is just how wrong everybody was about not only Cano, but about the Yankees' farm system generally. Do you remember all those stories about the Yankees' supposed inability to make mid-season trades because they didn't have anything to offer other teams? I sure do, because I repeated them every time someone asked me.

In the spring of 2005, everybody rated Eric Duncan as the Yankees' No. 1 prospect. In that year's Baseball America Prospect Book, three of four editors had Duncan as the only Yankee among the top 50 prospects; the other editor didn't list any Yankees at all. Overall, the organization's young talent was ranked 24th, with this comment: "Plenty of emerging players, especially power arms, but none has played above Class A."

The power arms, they mean. Cano had played in Triple-A. The Yankees also had Melky Cabrera (who had not played above Class A). And they had Chien-Ming Wang, who'd pitched brilliantly in 40 Triple-A innings (and it's not clear why he wasn't considered a "power arm," as he routinely threw his fastball in the low- to mid-90s).

As usual, I don't mean to pick on Baseball America. My friend John Sickels' ratings were essentially the same. He had Duncan as a B+ prospect, the 24th-best hitter, but had no other Yankee among the top 50 hitters or top 50 pitchers. He rated Cano, Cabrera, and Wang as B- prospects.

Of course, within a year all three were playing key roles for a team that won 97 games. And Eric Duncan, the jewel of the organization just three years ago? He's still in the organization. Still only 22 last year, he spent the entire season in Triple-A and batted .241 with 11 homers. In their latest Prospect Handbook, Baseball America doesn't rank Duncan among the Yankees top 30 prospects.

Wonder if there will be any rookies that come up and impress us in the Bronx this year?

Comments
2008-03-04 10:16:38
1.   Sliced Bread
"Oy vey. That coulda hit my punim."

Is Jorge hip to enough Yiddish to pull off something like that?

2008-03-04 10:20:32
2.   Bagel Boy
The only problem is current prospects wouldn't be as unexpected. We all had some inkling of Cano, but not really Wang and Melky. Now, I'd venture most of us are all over prospect reports.
2008-03-04 10:34:04
3.   Knuckles
Therein lies the difference between a prospect (as in, "Wow that guy could be a great major leaguer someday") and the guys who develop over time. Tools do not always trump learning, repetition, and experience.

I don't have time at the moment to look at Cano's minor league stats, but I'm guessing he's been a solid contact, low strikeout guy to some degree his whole career. There's the old saw about Latin guys that you "don't walk your way off the island." If this is true, and as MiL pitchers have less solid control, then you might see a guy hitting .270 with a .310 OBP in the minors who can eventually become a .310/.370 guy, gaining 40 points of BA with some added strength and selectivity and an additional 20 points of "patience" with the addition of some more experience and confidence.

As for pitchers, where were Kennedy and Horne on the lists last year vs. now? A guy like Kennedy is never going to be considered sexy, but at some point you have to say, "OK, he's had pinpoint control and success at A, AA, AAA, maybe it's ok to squint a little bit and see a Maddux-type, rather than be disappointed that he's not a Gooden-style flamethrower."

2008-03-04 10:34:42
4.   Sliced Bread
2 Scouting reports and projections are one thing... but I'll be pleasantly surprised if any of our prospects impress on the ML level.

I liked what I saw of 'Dorf last year, and am rooting for him to be a bullpen surprise.

2008-03-04 10:35:13
5.   williamnyy23
Maybe it's just me, but does Nick Johnson look more than a little bit overweight in this photo?

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/index

2008-03-04 10:39:04
6.   williamnyy23
3 Cano didn't tear up the minors (.278/.326/.425 ), but that could be because he started so young. Still, he did have a nice half season in AA in 2004 (struggled in AAA in the second half) and then had a very good AAA month before being called up in 2005.
2008-03-04 10:43:22
7.   williamnyy23
3 As for Kennedy, he really didn't rate on any lists because he only had 3 minor league innings before 2007. Kennedy did impress in the CWS and in Arizona, but his quick rise through the minors in 2007 was somewhat surprising.
2008-03-04 10:52:25
8.   wsporter
I think we have some obvious guys who we haven't seen before who could come up and impress in the pen: Melancon, Cox, Patterson, Whelan, White, Horne and Marquez. The last two may also be available for short term rotation help as well. I doubt Tabata or AJax are ready for anything other than September cameos but Gardner and or Christian could provide some outfield depth for us. The Curtis's, Coronas and Nunezs of the system probably aren't ready to impress now either and who knows if they ever will be? If Sanchez's rehab is going well I'd watch for him as well and as we talked about on the last thread Cervelli could be the man to save us behind the dish if something goes horribly wrong.

2009 is going to a lot of fun from a prospect stand point. A number of these guys are going to be ready to bust a move.

2008-03-04 10:55:13
9.   kylepetterson
I think the problem with any surprise from the minors is that since Wang, Cano, Melky, we've all gotten more into looking at the minor leagues and checking out the guys there. Attention to prospects over the last couple years has grown exponentially. It seems like a couple years ago most people couldn't name any prospects in their own system and now I would say most true fans could name 3 or 4 plus a couple who play for their rivals. That being said, I've heard great things about this guy Carl Pavano. I guess he's injured right now, but they're saying he could make an impact somewhere by 2010. Let's just pray that that impact doesn't cause him to miss any more baseball...
2008-03-04 10:58:24
10.   ms october
5 it's prince fielder now - i saw it earlier though and thought about posting it but figured it would change by the time i did.
but to answer your question - no it is not just you - he looks pudgy - granted his windbreaker is blowing so that doesn't help, but when you stand near dmitri young and don't look fit there's a problem

8 agree with your take. the position players are not advanced enough to be ready nor to really know how they will pan out - but with all those pitchers it is certainly within the realm of serious possibility that a solid staff and pen can be constructed for the next handful of years.

2008-03-04 10:59:47
11.   Sliced Bread
9 Truly, there would be no greater Yankee surprise this year than a healthy and productive Pavano.
2008-03-04 11:16:25
12.   sabernar
OT: Gary Gygax died.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/03/04/obit.gygax.ap/index.html

:(

2008-03-04 11:18:28
13.   SF Yanks
How ugly would that be to have Pavano dominate us in the near future? You think we hate him now...
2008-03-04 11:24:09
14.   Rob Middletown CT
13 - two words: Jose Contreras.
2008-03-04 11:25:16
15.   Sliced Bread
14 two worse words: Kenny Rogers
2008-03-04 11:29:42
16.   Rob Middletown CT
I'm guessing that you could do this with lots of organizations. Look back and say "wow, nobody saw that guy coming" and then point to the failed top prospect. Which goes to show you how difficult it is to see the future.

The Yankees themselves clearly undervalued Cano and Wang. They may still undervalue Melky, though that's not clear.

2008-03-04 11:30:07
17.   Rob Middletown CT
14 - you bastard. :)
2008-03-04 11:32:11
18.   Yu-Hsing Chen
it's because fans now realize just how important prospecting really is. teams notice too. it would seem like a nobrainer now but you'd be surprised of how many no-brainer deals went down involving prospects in the past... (like the Larry Bowa for Ivan Dejesus hey lets throw in that kid who's hitting well in AAA but may or may not make it to sweeten the deal.. what's his name.. Sandberg? )

It's a still developing process. but it's getting better.

As for Cano / Cabrera / Wang, Wang was actually the highest profile amoung the 3. he had the largest signing bonus by far. and it's obviously also high profile because he was like just the 4th player ever from Taiwan to comeover stateside.

He's career in the minors was a little odd, it was scewed by injury in the early going. it's hard to tell when he was truely healthy . he also pitched for the national team quiet often which scewed it even more(particularly his clutch performance in 03 propelled Taiwan into the Olympics for the first time in 12 year) .. like in 04 when he was in Athen in the summer.

During all this he also changed his pitching style. which basically just throws every sample out of the window. in another word. Wang's basically a guy you had to completely rely on scouting report. he's big, he throws hard, he has pretty good command and good poise.

Cano and Cabrera 's path are fairly similar. both moved up pretty fast. not showing a ton in the process consistently except maybe the ability to hit for contact pretty consistently. and at least some flashes of power while staying at a reasonablly preminum position. they both went ballistics in the upper minor . maybe they're really just the type of guys that excell more in higher level competition or maybe it was all the fast tracking that's scewed their minor league stats.

There are PLENTY of big time star who either didn't have incrediablly high profile or didn't hit a ton in the minors. Albert Pujols might be the most extreme case as he was basically on NO ONE's list until he won the job out of ST. Miguel Cabrera's path is strikingly similar to Cano / Cabrera . and Hanely Ramirez sucked before he was traded.

minor watching is a combination of a lot of things. really.

2008-03-04 11:34:44
19.   rbj
12 You mean he failed his saving throw?
2008-03-04 11:49:17
20.   wsporter
18 I think you make a great point that illustrates the folly of relying simply on a numerical analysis of Mil performance to determine prospect status. In the opinion of many (with whom I agree) Mil numbers are far less useful in terms of their ability to aid us in forecasting future performance than do numbers garnered through ML performance. The simple reason for that is Most MiL's especially at AA and below are working on things and not particularly displaying skills they have already mastered. It's why you'll see a guy (Hughes) who has an average ML slider stick it in has back pocket to work on and perfect his curve. Hitters will learn to lay off pitches in locations that they might otherwise drive. This facet alone skews the data both for pitchers and hitters in directions we can't account for or correct. There is nothing like first hand scouting info at the MiL level to get a real picture of what is going on. There were some very positive reports on Cano from people who were actually watching him that just didn't jibe with the numbers he was producing. Some folks that leaned heavily on the numbers to create a projection in his case (BA) are still back peddling on that one.
2008-03-04 11:53:48
21.   sabernar
19 Yeah, his Magical Hat +1, +3 vs Death didn't seem to help. He still ended up rolling a 1 on the d20.
2008-03-04 12:09:30
22.   Yu-Hsing Chen
20 I think numbers obviously mean something, but it should not be taken as a abosalute and you must try to spin different context on it and compare it with scouting reports.

For example. Jeff Marquez is a interesting case. he's got a solid ERA . but his periphals been deminishing. in terms of stats I'd say he's not gonna make it as more than a backend SP or RP...

but scouting reports i've read suggest that he's stuff is pretty damn good. and he's shown solid control. he just might be a pretty big sleeper. Curt Schilling was a lot like that in his minor league days. scouts liked him a lot more then the numbers. but he also struggled BIG TIME in the majors from the get go. then they spinned him to the Astros... who spinned him to the Phillies.. for Jason Grimsly LOL!!!

2008-03-04 12:19:25
23.   williamnyy23
20 I don't think ML numbers are weighed that heavily in the first place. Having said that, I think Ks, BBs and SLG can serve as a decent baromoter because they speak to broad skills. Having said that, age and raw talent alway have to be taken into account.
2008-03-04 12:27:59
24.   JL25and3
It's easy enough to point to bad trades of prospects for - well, for anything. Obviously, no one's advocating making bad trades.

At the same time, you shouldn't let the fear of making a bad decision paralyze the organization completely. Sure, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make - but those can be bad trades, too.

It's also not enough to say, well, if you're going to lose them in the rule 5 draft or as MiL FAs, then trade them. That insures that you get the least possible value for them - it's wasting your assets.

You have to have good evaluators, but you also have to take chances. Some of them won't work - but otherwise you're not making the best use of your farm system.

And to respond to someone from the last thread: no, it's not Nick Johnson + Rivera + Navarro + Halsey for Randy Johnson. The Vazquez deal turned out to be a bad one, but it was a sunk cost and doesn't figure into the RJ deal.

2008-03-04 12:32:14
25.   wsporter
23 "I don't think ML numbers are weighed that heavily in the first place". It seems to me that numbers at the major league level are weighed very heavily.

I think ML data have a far greater predictive value than do those generated at minor league levels especially A+ and below for a number of reasons. Most importantly players are typically working on skill mastery and generalization at those levels. At the big leagues they're working on winning and therefore there is a substantially greater probability that any data captured there will be a reflection of the true useful skill set of a particular player.

MiL numbers shouldn't be and aren't ignored but the need to be used the right way in conjunction with scouting; typically to determine if work is paying off and for short term comparisons. The problem is for any set of data developed for a hitter we can never really control what the pitchers he was facing were working on either. Therefore we have to be cautious when employing the numbers.

2008-03-04 13:04:05
26.   sabernar
Link to Baseball Musings about a Red Sox scout...umm....doing the wrong type of scouting.

http://www.baseballmusings.com/archives/025111.php

2008-03-04 13:11:08
27.   horace-clarke-era
I dunno, is it me, or does anyone else find 21 followed by the first words of 22 very funny.

Oh. OK. Just me.

2008-03-04 13:13:22
28.   sabernar
27 Nice observation! That's pretty funny.
2008-03-04 13:28:30
29.   Chyll Will
26 Yep. That gives a whole new connotation to the phrase "limpid pools"...

27 Nice >;)

2008-03-04 13:33:34
30.   JL25and3
27 Yeah, I noticed that, too. Serendipity.
2008-03-04 15:44:40
31.   Jeteupthemiddle
If anyone would like to participate in a community projection, please feel free to do it.

http://jeteupthemiddle.blogspot.com/2008/03/community-projections-2008.html

2008-03-04 17:40:35
32.   williamnyy23
25 By ML, I meant minor league numbers, not major league. Sorry for the confusion.
2008-03-05 08:35:23
33.   Schteeve
Smooth it out, this is a story about the drifter?

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