February 29, 2004

Notes from the Weekend

It's almost enough to make me like the Yankees. Almost.

For the few who don't already read Alex Belth's wonderful Bronx Banter blog on a regular basis, let me try to convince you to start.

In preparation for what looks like a mildly entertaining year for Yankee fans, Alex's site is featuring a series of articles previewing the 2004 season. Not just your run-of-the-mill preview stuff either, this is quality and quantity from some of the best writers around.

Alex has called on the amazing assortment of writers who cover the Yankees to each contribute something, including...

- Ben Jacobs of the Universal Baseball Blog Inc. on Mike Mussina.

- Steven Goldman of Baseball Prospectus and the YES Network with a piece "In Defense of Jason Giambi".

- The host of the festivities, Alex Belth, and Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat, on New York's Odd Couple, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter.

- Cliff Corcoran of Clifford's Big Red Blog on the best shortstop in New York, Alex Rodriguez.

- The Futility Infielder himself, Jay Jaffe, on one of the most underrated players in baseball, Jorge Posada.

- Chris DeRosa on Mariano "Exit light, enter night" Rivera.

And as if all of that weren't enough, Alex has put together an amazing roundtable of baseball writers to discuss some of the most interesting questions facing the Yankees in 2004. Don't believe me? Check out the names he got to contribute to the first part of the discussion (there's a whole new set of guys coming for round two!):

- Larry Mahnken of the The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, who is a buddy of mine, one of my favorite bloggers, and perhaps the most pessimistic Yankee fan of all-time.

- Tim Marchman of The New York Sun, who is doing some of the best work you'll find from a baseball writer at any newspaper in the country.

- Alan Schwarz of Baseball America and ESPN.com, who has worked himself into my inner-circle of guys I "must read" over the past year or so.

- Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, who is simply one of the best baseball writers around, period.

- Joel Sherman of The New York Post, one of the few local New York writers whom I think "gets it."

- Buster Olney of ESPN.com.

- Glenn Stout, long-time baseball author and historian.

If that's not a Murderer's Row of Yankee experts, I don't know what is. Head on over there if you have a day or two to kill, because the writing and discussion is fabulous and plentiful.



Coincidence? Uh, yeah...

Baseball Prospectus had an "interesting" interview with new Seattle GM Bill Bavasi posted this weekend. The interview is part of their "premium" content, so it's off-limits for non-subscribers. However, here's a little piece that caught my eye...

When asked, "What was the thought process and how much do you think you'll lose defensively, moving from Mike Cameron to Randy Winn in center?" Bavasi responds, in part:

We took that left fielder, moved him to center field, and we think we had a real firm upgrade offensively in center. We think people will be real surprised when they see Randy play center field every day. It was the same kind of thing with Darin Erstad in Anaheim. Sometimes you don't really a player's true ability when he's just filling in at a position defensively here and there, the way Darin was doing in the beginning, spelling Jim Edmonds.

But often when you give a player like that a chance to prove himself every day, he will look really good. If he swings through a lot less pitches than Mike, the way we expect, you like that too.

First of all, this is about the 100th time so far this off-season someone in Seattle has chosen to say something negative about Mike Cameron. I have to say, I just don't understand it.

Sure, the guy is no longer on your team, but he was a Gold Glove center fielder in Seattle who, despite his faults offensively, was still a very valuable hitter every year. His overall game made him one of the best 5-10 center fielders in all of baseball while with the Mariners.

Meanwhile, Bavasi is under the impression that Randy Winn is somehow going to be a "real firm upgrade offensively in center."

Randy Winn has a career Equivalent Average of .265 and he had a .278 EqA last season. Mike Cameron has a career Equivalent Average of .276 and he had a .276 EqA last season. If there's a clear upgrade offensively there (or any upgrade), I'm not seeing it.

I'd be willing to bet just about all the money in the world that Mike Cameron will be a more valuable offensive player than Randy Winn in 2004. Of course, he'll also almost certainly strikeout a lot more than Winn, which brings me to the funniest part about Bavasi's response.

"If [Winn] swings through a lot less pitches than Mike, the way we expect, you like that too."

Why is that funny? Well, on the same day Baseball Prospectus ran that interview with Bavasi, they also ran an article entitled "Just Another Out," which looks at whether or not a strikeout is any worse than other kinds of outs.

That article is not part of their premium content, so you can read it for yourself and find out exactly what their findings on strikeouts are. Suffice it to say Bavasi's thoughts and the actual numbers aren't exactly in agreement.



Speaking of Alex Belth (and are we talking Willie Mays 1955 or Willie Mays 1973?)

I came across an article over the weekend in The New York Journal News entitled "A growing sports voice."

It is about baseball bloggers writing about the Yankees and Mets, including guys like Alex Belth, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, Doug Pappas, Larry Mahnken and several others.

I started reading the article and thought it was a really good piece. Then I got to the 9th paragraph and saw this:

Belth and many other bloggers were first inspired by Aaron Gleeman, Jay Jaffe and David Pinto, the Willie, Mickey and the Duke of this fledgling genre. They were among the first and are now three of the best-read bloggers.

As you can probably imagine, that's the first time I've been called "the Willie Mays" of anything and I'm quite honored. Now, if I can just get some Minnesota-based newspapers to pay attention to the work I'm doing, my ego-trip will be complete. Anyone know if the University of Minnesota has a student newspaper? Wait...nevermind...

Here is one of my favorite parts of the article (aside from the part that mentioned me, of course):

If Stephen Keane goes a few days without adding to his Mets blog, "The Eddie Kranepool Society," he gets e-mails asking if he feels well.

"That's the greatest feeling in the world," the Staten Island resident said.

I know what Stephen means. It's not often that I skip a day on this blog, but when I do, I feel compelled to explain myself beforehand.

I am often asked if it is difficult to write something new every single day. It definitely is, but one of the main things that keeps me motivated is the knowledge that there will be a couple thousand people wondering why they don't have something new to read if I slack off. As Stephen said, that's the greatest feeling in the world.



One in four, February has one more

I would like to admit to an addiction. No, nothing serious (although I did have quite a few Vodka and Sprites this weekend). I am addicted to checking the number of visitors this site gets.

I check the numbers constantly. From my room, from class, from other peoples' computers. I check the numbers so often that I have figured out what "good" totals are for each hour of the day. For instance, I know that if there have been more than 200 visitors by 2 a.m. the day is off to a good start. If there aren't 1,200 by noon it's probably not going to be a very good day. And on and on.

What's my point? Well, nothing really, although they do say admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

I do want to thank everyone who stopped by to read what I had to say in February. It was the 18th month in a row that the traffic for this blog has risen. Despite having just 29 days, February had the most traffic in the 19-month history of this blog, checking in at just shy of 55,000 visitors.

An additional thanks to everyone who has kept coming here every day throughout the long off-season. We've got real, live baseball coming very soon, which is always good news for the content of a baseball blog. In other words, if you're relatively new here and you've been enjoying it, just wait until there is actually some baseball for me to write about!

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 26, 2004

Top 50 Prospects: A Year in Review (Part Three: 1-10)

--- Part One: 31-50

--- Part Two: 11-30

I have always been very interested in minor league prospects. I like to watch them, I like to read about them, I like to compare their numbers, and I like to think about what kinds of players they can become in the future.

It's fun tracking prospects. You follow them through the minor leagues for years and then you actually know who they are when they show up in the big leagues. You know what type of player they are and what type of numbers they've put up. You know their injury history and their defensive reputation. You know where they were drafted and whether or not they've been traded. You know all sorts of interesting stuff about some 22-year-old rookie that the average fan just doesn't know, and there's something rewarding about that.

Last year, right around this time, I did my very own "Top 50 Prospects" ranking for the very first time. Actually, that's not entirely true. I suppose I had been doing similar rankings in my head for at least a few years, but last year was the first time I decided to put it down on paper, along with some comments on each player.

Now that it's a year later, I think it's time to see how the players on my first official Top 50 Prospects list faired in 2003 and how that has impacted their "stock" for the future.



10) Rocco Baldelli | Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Here's a little of what I said about Rocco Baldelli last year:

Rocco Baldelli's "ceiling" is as high as anyone's and he looks like a potential MVP candidate, but he's going to make it very difficult on himself if he doesn't start taking some walks.

Short term, I wouldn't expect him to hit .330 in the majors anytime soon, which is what he'll have to do to make himself valuable with such an atrocious walk rate.

Baldelli didn't hit .330, but he gave it a good fight for a little while. He started the year extremely hot, hitting .368/.389/.509 in April. He cooled down a little but continued to do quite well in May, hitting .314/.348/.438. Through his first two months in the major leagues, Baldelli was batting .340/.367/.474.

He also had a Soriano-esque 45/9 strikeout/walk ratio at that point, which soon caught up to him. Baldelli hit just .263 after May, including .270/.322/.378 in the second-half of the year. Of course, even .270/.322/.378 for a 21-year-old rookie center fielder isn't bad.

Baldelli's final numbers were .289/.326/.416 with 11 homers, 32 doubles, 8 triples and 27 stolen bases. All in all, a pretty damn good year for a guy with less than 200 at bats above Single-A.

Baldelli finished 4 Runs Created Above Position (RCAP), which actually puts him in some fairly exclusive company. In the last 30 years, here's a list of the only 21-year-old center fielders to post higher RCAP totals than Baldelli:

                         YEAR     RCAP

Ken Griffey Jr. 1991 49
Andruw Jones 1998 13
Juan Gonzalez 1991 12
Terry Puhl 1978 9
Barry Bonds 1986 7
Ellis Valentine 1976 5
Rick Manning 1976 5

There are three MVP winners on that list and they've won a total of nine MVP awards. Also, everyone but Rick Manning was an All-Star at least once. And yes, Juan Gonzalez actually played center field in 1991.

Stock: NEUTRAL



9) Brandon Phillips | Cleveland Indians

Wow, that was a bad year. Setting aside everyone who suffered a serious injury, I would guess Brandon Phillips had one of the worst seasons ever for someone who entered the year as a top-10 prospect.

Phillips won the second base job out of spring training and got off to an extremely slow start, going 10 for his first 59 (.167). At various points it looked like he was going to pull it together, raising his batting average to .234 near the end of April and even up to .250 in the middle of May. He just couldn't sustain any productive stretches though, finishing the year at .208/.242/.311 in 112 games.

The amazing thing is that Phillips not only continued to stink when he was sent back to Triple-A, he was actually even worse there. In 43 Triple-A games, Phillips hit .175/.247/.279. This is a guy who came into 2003 a career .280 minor league hitter.

I'm not sure I can begin to explain what happened to Brandon Phillips last year, so I won't even try.

Stock: DOWN



8) Jason Stokes | Florida Marlins

I typically get scared off when power hitters suffer significant wrist injuries. Heck, just a few days ago I was discussing Brad Nelson (my #45 prospect last year) and I rated his stock as "down" and said, "wrist injuries for power hitters scare me."

That said, for some reason season-ending wrist surgery in 2002 didn't stop me from ranking Jason Stokes as the #8 prospect in baseball. It probably should have.

According to what I've heard, Stokes' wrist was healed by the time he started playing last year, but he did reportedly have some slight problems with the wrist early on. After hitting .341 with a homer every 12.9 at bats and an extra-base hit every 6.7 at bats in 2002, Stokes' power declined significantly in 2003. He hit a homer every 27.2 at bats and an extra-base hit every 9.1 at bats.

His batting average also dropped to .258 and his plate discipline (135/36 strikeout/walk ratio) was horrendous. Obviously a wrist injury that was mostly healed by the time the season started can't be blamed for all of Stokes' struggles in 2003, but it certainly didn't help him any.

Stock: DOWN



7) Jesse Foppert | San Francisco Giants

Jesse Foppert came into last season with a career minor league ERA of 2.95 in 210.1 innings pitched. He had 271 strikeouts in those innings, which comes out to an amazing 11.6 per nine innings pitched. He was big, he threw absolute gas and he racked up huge strikeout numbers everywhere he went.

At the end of my comment on him last year I said, very simply:

He's the real deal.

And he was. I watched Jesse Foppert's major league debut on ESPN and came away from it extraordinarily impressed. Foppert came into the game against the Astros in the top of the 7th inning and got the first three batters he faced 1-2-3, including an absolutely dominating performance against Craig Biggio that ended in a swinging strikeout.

Foppert remained in San Francisco's bullpen for just one more game and then made the move to the starting rotation. He was very inconsistent early on as a starter, but managed to work in enough gems (8 Ks and 1 ER in 7 innings at Colorado, 10 Ks and 1 ER in 7.1 innings against the White Sox) to keep you dreaming about his future.

Then it all came to an end. After a brief appearance against the Braves on August 20th, Foppert left the game after experiencing numbness in his right hand. Foppert tried to do some throwing in the bullpen a couple weeks later, but again had problems. Turns out, he tore a ligament in his elbow.

He had Tommy John surgery in September and is likely out for almost all of 2004. Foppert is now just another in the long line of awesome pitching prospects who went down with serious injuries. Here's hoping he can make it back, because he is a special pitcher.

Stock: DOWN



6) Francisco Rodriguez | Anaheim Angels

Here's a little of what I said about Francisco Rodriguez last year:

Rodriguez looks like a "sure thing" at this point. He has a blazing fastball and a devastating slider that makes hitters look absolutely ridiculous. The Angels appear to have chosen a setup role for him in 2002 and I wouldn't be surprised to see him put up Octavio Dotel-type numbers (~100 IP/2.50 ERA).

Not a bad prediction. Rodriguez pitched 86 innings with a 3.03 ERA.

In fact, his numbers were nearly identical to Octavio Dotel's:

               IP      ERA     SO     BB     HR     OAVG

Rodriguez 86 3.03 95 35 12 .172
Dotel 87 2.48 97 31 9 .172

The amazing thing is that, as good as Rodriguez's rookie year was, it barely got any attention. That is probably due to the incredible hype he had as a result of his amazing post-season in 2002.

Rodriguez had one of the greatest handful of seasons ever for a 21-year-old relief pitcher. Among 21-year-olds who didn't start a single game, here are the all-time leaders in Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA):

                         YEAR     RSAA

Billy McCool 1966 20
Francisco Rodriguez 2003 11
Manny Sarmiento 1977 7
Matt Anderson 1998 7
Edwin Nunez 1984 7

Not exactly a star-studded list, but that's partly because not many great 21-year-old pitchers spend an entire year in the majors with making any starts.

Incidentally, how great is "Billy McCool" as a name for a 21-year-old reliever?

Stock: NEUTRAL



5) Jose Reyes | New York Mets

After hitting .288 with 53 extra-base hits and 58 steals between Single-A and Double-A in 2002, Jose Reyes started 2003 at Triple-A Norfolk and didn't exactly dominate. He hit just .269/.333/.356 in 42 games before the Mets called him up in early June.

Reyes struggled initially with New York, hitting just .205/.211/.342 in his first month, but he turned it up a notch after that. In July and August combined, Reyes hit .343/.381/.477 with 4 homers, 9 doubles, 2 triples and 12 stolen bases. Unfortunately, his season ended on August 31st, when he hurt his ankle trying to break up a double-play.

Reyes finished the year batting .307/.334/.434 in 69 games with the Mets. His numbers projected out to 155 games come to .307 with 11 homers, 27 doubles, 9 triples, 29 steals, 72 RBIs and 106 runs scored. He also walked just 13 times, which is definitely an area he's going to need to work on. Still, it's hard to argue with his rookie numbers.

Jose Reyes is destined for stardom and if you aren't yet convinced, check out this list of the top half-dozen 20-year-old shortstops in baseball history (ranked by RCAP):

                         YEAR     RCAP

Alex Rodriguez 1996 88
John McGraw 1893 45
Arky Vaughan 1932 24
Travis Jackson 1924 21
Tony Kubek 1957 13
Jose Reyes 2003 11

As soon as Alex Rodriguez has been retired for five years, four of the five guys ahead of Jose Reyes will be in the Hall of Fame. The only one who isn't a Hall of Famer is Tony Kubek, who had to settle for being a 3-time All-Star.

Of course, with Kazuo Matsui now a Met, Reyes is no longer even a shortstop. Here's that same list, but with 20-year-old second basemen instead of shortstops:

                         YEAR     RCAP

Bill Mazeroski 1957 12
Rennie Stennett 1971 11
Roberto Alomar 1988 9
Frankie Gustine 1940 4
Bert Myers 1884 4

Not nearly as impressive (although Reyes would rank tied for 2nd), which probably says a lot about where great 20-year-old middle infielders should be playing.

Stock: NEUTRAL



4) Michael Cuddyer | Minnesota Twins

I happen to think Twins GM Terry Ryan is very good at his job. I would gladly take him running my team any day of the week. That said, I am not particularly happy with the way he and Ron Gardenhire have handled Michael Cuddyer.

Cuddyer was Minnesota's first round pick (9th overall) in the 1997 draft. Since then, all he's done is hit. .301/.395/.560 at Double-A in 2001. .309/.379/.594 at Triple-A in 2002. .306/.381/.446 at Triple-A in 2003. Yet despite all that hitting and the fact that he is going to be 25 years old in 2004, he still hasn't had a chance to play on an everyday basis for more than a few weeks at a time.

The Twins have talked about his inability to "establish" himself as a hitter when he has been given an opportunity. Certainly Cuddyer hasn't dominated offensively, but he's been given a grand-total of 232 at bats to prove himself in three seasons.

And his offense, which has apparently been so poor that it has cost him chances for real playing time? Well, he's a career .250/.316/.422 hitter in the major leagues. Again, those are not great numbers, but they aren't disastrous either, especially in such limited playing time.

Meanwhile, Dustan Mohr was given more than 800 plate appearances over the past two years, despite the fact that he hit just .258/.319/.408, numbers almost identical to Cuddyer's.

Once again in 2004, Cuddyer appears to be the odd man out. Shannon Stewart is in left field. Jacque Jones is in right field. Corey Koskie is at third base. Doug Mientkiewicz is at first base. And Matthew LeCroy is at DH. I would like to see Cuddyer given a shot at playing second base, but we all know that's not going to happen.

The Twins seem committed to using Cuddyer as a "super utility" player this season, but I'm not at all confident he'll be given any more of a chance to establish himself as a major league hitter than he was given during the past two years.

At some point, you have to give a guy like Cuddyer a legitimate chance to prove himself. Not for 100 at bats and not under the condition that he has to hit .300. That the Twins wasted 804 plate appearances on Dustan Mohr over the last two years while guys like Cuddyer struggled to find playing time is one of my biggest problems with how things have been run in Minnesota. I'm still holding out hope for Cuddyer getting a real chance to play, but I'm not holding my breath.

Stock: DOWN



3) Victor Martinez | Cleveland Indians

Victor Martinez was in the middle of his third straight great offensive season in the minors when the Indians called him up at the end of June. He didn't hit for any power in 49 games, but did bat .289 with a .345 on-base percentage.

Here are Martinez's numbers for the past three years in the minors:

YEAR     LVL      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG

2001 A 420 .329 .394 .488
2002 AA 443 .336 .417 .576
2003 AAA 274 .328 .395 .474

The power he showed in 2002 may have been a bit of an anomaly, but there's no doubt that Martinez can hit. I expect him to be one of the best catchers in baseball for a long time, starting in 2004.

Stock: NEUTRAL



2) Joe Mauer | Minnesota Twins

What can I say about Joe Mauer that I haven't said already? A quick search through my archives says probably not a whole lot.

In ranking Mauer #2 last year, I talked about the fact that his game was complete, offensively and defensively, except for his lack of power. A year later, that is still true. Mauer hit .338 between Single-A and Double-A last year, posting a fantastic 49/49 strikeout/walk ratio while playing incredible defense behind the plate. Yet he hit just five homers in 509 at bats.

Scouts, teammates, Twins officials and just about anyone else you would want to hear from still talk about the fact that they think Mauer will add power as he matures. Some even go so far as to say they think he could hit 40+ homers a year at some point. Still, regardless of the potential, the results simply haven't been there thus far.

With A.J. Pierzynski in San Francisco, Mauer will be Minnesota's starting catcher in 2004. I wouldn't expect any sudden power surges this year, but I do think he'll eventually add significant power to complete his all-around resume.

I will no doubt have tons more on Mauer here in the future, but I just wanted to show how his power has changed as he has advanced through the minors.

                    AB/HR     AB/2B     AB/XBH

Rookie-Ball 18.3 13.8
Low Single-A 102.8 17.9 14.7
High Single-A 233.0 17.9 15.5
Double-A 69.0 16.2 12.5

The good news is that Mauer showed a whole lot more power at Double-A last year than he had everywhere else. Mauer hit four homers in 276 at bats at Double-A, compared to a total of five homers in his previous 754 at bats.

It's not exactly huge power development, but it's something at least. The guy has a career batting average of .330 with a .406 OBP and he'll be a starting catcher in the major leagues before he turns 20, so I'm willing to be patient waiting for the power to arrive.

Stock: NEUTRAL



1) Mark Teixeira | Texas Rangers

Mark Teixeira had a very good rookie season. He batted .259/.331/.480 with 26 homers, 29 doubles and 84 RBIs in 146 games. At the same time, it was a disappointing year in my mind, which might say more about what type of hitter I was/am expecting him to become than the quality of his rookie season.

The two things that surprised me about Teixeira's rookie year were his low batting average and his lack of plate discipline. He drew just 39 non-intentional walks in 598 plate appearances, after being a walking-machine in college and after walking 46 times in just 368 plate appearances in the minors two years ago.

Here's an interesting little tidbit: The only switch-hitters in baseball history to hit more homers than Mark Teixeira as 23-year-olds are...Mickey Mantle and Ruben Sierra. How's that for a mixed bag?

I'll be shocked if Teixeira doesn't improve his numbers across-the-board in 2003, and I suspect he'll be one of the best power hitters in the American League.

Stock: NEUTRAL



Some notes on last year's Top 50:

The "stock" changes break down as follows:

UP - 10

DOWN - 16

NEUTRAL - 24

Obviously my method isn't scientific, but it should at least give a decent estimation of things.

Nearly half of the players saw their stock stay basically the same, which seems about right to me. The fact that only 10 guys went "up" might seem low at first, but when you're already among the top 50 prospects in baseball it's pretty tough to soar even higher.

Guys like Mauer, Reyes and Rodriguez had great years in 2003, but they were already ranked so highly that they really had no room to anywhere but down. Meanwhile, for guys like Stokes, Foppert and Phillips, it's easy to fall when you start so high.

As you might expect, pitchers were the most volatile position. 10 of the 16 pitchers (62.5%) in the top 50 either went up or down, while just 16 of the 34 position players (47.0%) saw their stock move.

Here is how I would rank the biggest gainers and losers:

GAINERS:

1) Prince Fielder

2) Andy Marte

3) Miguel Cabrera

4) Rafael Soriano

5) Scott Kazmir

LOSERS:

1) Jesse Foppert

2) Josh Hamilton

3) Brandon Phillips

4) Joe Borchard

5) Jason Stokes

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 25, 2004

Team K

No team in the history of baseball struck out more batters than the 2003 Chicago Cubs.

I don't know about you, but that seems to me like it should have been a much bigger deal last season.

The Cubs whiffed a total of 1,404 batters last year, an average of .964 per inning and 8.67 per game. With 27 outs per game, that means the Cubs struck out enough batters to take care of 52 entire games without letting a ball in play.

To put their team total in perspective, consider that the Cubs struck out 640 more batters than the Detroit Tigers, which is enough additional outs for nearly 24 entire games.

Among pitchers who threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, only six had more strikeouts per nine innings than the Cubs had as a team. And two of those six pitchers were on the Cubs.

Of course, 2003 wasn't the first time the Cubs piled up huge strikeout numbers. Check out how they ranked among the 30 major league teams in strikeouts since 1996:

YEAR        SO     RANK

1996 1027 18
1997 1072 15
1998 1207 3
1999 980 27
2000 1143 5
2001 1344 1
2002 1333 1
2003 1404 1

That's a very strange looking pattern, but it can actually be explained by just two words: Kerry Wood.

Wood debuted in 1998 and struck out an amazing 233 batters in just 166.2 innings pitched. That year, the Cubs jumped from 15th to 3rd in team strikeouts. Then Wood missed all of 1999 with an injury and the Cubs dropped all the way to 27th in team Ks.

He returned in 2000 and, over the last three years, he struck out 217, 217 and 266 batters, while the Cubs led all of baseball in strikeouts.

Wood led the National League with 266 strikeouts last year and Mark Prior finished right behind him with 245. Two other Chicago starters, Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano, also finished among the top 15 in the league in Ks.

Even Chicago's relievers got in on the strikeout action. Among National League pitchers who didn't start any games in 2003, Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Remlinger ranked 6th and 7th in strikeouts. Chicago's closer, Joe Borowski, tied for 18th.

During the off-season, the Cubs added a couple more strikeout artists to their bullpen, signing Latroy Hawkins from Minnesota and Kent Mercker from Atlanta. With those two guys onboard, the Cubs' pitching staff now includes the following players (with the following strikeout rates):

                     SO/9

Kerry Wood 11.35
Kyle Farnsworth 10.85
Mike Remlinger 10.83
Mark Prior 10.43
Juan Cruz 9.59
Latroy Hawkins 8.73
Joe Borowski 8.70
Kent Mercker 7.81
Matt Clement 7.63
Carlos Zambrano 7.07

The National League as a whole last year struck out 6.64 batters per nine innings, meaning each and every one of those guys were above league-average. Seven of them were at least 30% better than league-average, four of them were at least 50% above league-average, and Kerry Wood checked in at right around 70% above league-average. That's an awful lot of missed bats, no wonder they call it The Windy City.

You might notice one name missing from that list above. The Cubs, in addition to signing Hawkins and Mercker for their bullpen, also signed a starting pitcher this off-season. His name is Greg Maddux and he's one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. Oh, and his strikeout rate sticks out like a sore thumb on this staff.

Greg Maddux struck out just 124 batters in 218.1 innings last season, or 5.11 per nine innings pitched. That would not only rank him last in that group, it would put him about 28% behind the second-to-last-place guy, Carlos Zambrano (who, despite his low standing on the Cubs' strikeout rate list, actually ranked 13th in the NL in strikeouts last year).

Maddux was just slightly better at striking people out two years ago, whiffing 5.33 batters per nine innings. Before that, his strikeout rate was typically in the mid-6s and he topped 7.0 Ks per nine innings just two times in 18 years.

One might think that adding a pitcher who doesn't strike anyone out like Maddux to the starting rotation might put an end to Chicago's chances of leading the world in strikeouts again. Let's see if that's true...

During the off-season, the Cubs lost the following pitchers:

- Antonio Alfonseca

- Shawn Estes

- Dave Veres

- Mark Guthrie

Those four guys combined to throw 294 innings for the Cubs in 2003. They struck out 204 batters, or 6.24 per nine innings.

Even with Maddux's meager K rate dragging them down, the three pitchers the Cubs signed for 2004 (Maddux, Hawkins, Mercker) combined for 247 strikeouts in 351 innings, or 6.33 per nine innings.

It's hard enough trying to project numbers for a single pitcher, let alone an entire pitching staff, but let's give it a try. Let's assume the Cubs can avoid a major injury to one of their key pitchers in 2004.

Their innings might be distributed something like this:

STARTERS

IP SO
Mark Prior 220 255
Kerry Wood 210 265
Greg Maddux 200 114
Carlos Zambrano 200 157
Matt Clement 200 170
-------------------------------
SP TOTAL 1030 961
RELIEVERS

IP SO
Joe Borowski 65 63
Latroy Hawkins 70 68
Kyle Farnsworth 70 84
Mike Remlinger 65 78
Kent Mercker 50 44
Juan Cruz 70 75
-------------------------------
RP TOTAL 390 412

*To project the strikeout totals, I simply used each guy's 2003 strikeout rate, prorated to the amount of innings I put them down for in 2004.

Counting on all five starters throwing 200+ innings in 2004 is probably wishful thinking. On the other hand, all five of them did pitch 200+ innings in 2003.

Here's another thing to consider: Mark Prior was 2nd in the NL in strikeouts last year, despite making just 30 starts. He went on the DL in mid-July after crashing into Marcus Giles while running the bases, and probably missed at least two and possibly three starts (not to mention his start that day being cut short).

Assuming Prior stays away from collisions with diminutive second basemen who have brothers named Brian in 2004, he could very easily add 15-20 innings to his 2003 total of 211.1, which would help Chicago's quest for strikeouts even more than the 220 innings I have him "projected" for above.

Add up those two groups of projections above and you get 1,420 total innings and 1,373 strikeouts. That still leaves about 40 innings left to fill, which makes sense, since no team is going to go all season using just 11 pitchers (the Cubs used 17 last year).

Assuming some combination of minor league call-ups and mid-season acquisitions can combine to strikeout somewhere around 6.0 batters per nine innings in those 40 remaining innings, the Cubs will once again be right around 1,400 strikeouts at the end of 2004.

And who knows, maybe someone will actually notice the Cubs trying to break a major league record this time.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 24, 2004

Top 50 Prospects: A Year in Review (Part Two: 11-30)

--- Part One: 31-50

--- Part Three: 1-10

I have always been very interested in minor league prospects. I like to watch them, I like to read about them, I like to compare their numbers, and I like to think about what kinds of players they can become in the future.

It's fun tracking prospects. You follow them through the minor leagues for years and then you actually know who they are when they show up in the big leagues. You know what type of player they are and what type of numbers they've put up. You know their injury history and their defensive reputation. You know where they were drafted and whether or not they've been traded. You know all sorts of interesting stuff about some 22-year-old rookie that the average fan just doesn't know, and there's something rewarding about that.

Last year, right around this time, I did my very own "Top 50 Prospects" ranking for the very first time. Actually, that's not entirely true. I suppose I had been doing similar rankings in my head for at least a few years, but last year was the first time I decided to put it down on paper, along with some comments on each player.

Now that it's a year later, I think it's time to see how the players on my first official Top 50 Prospects list faired in 2003 and how that has impacted their "stock" for the future.



30) Rafael Soriano | Seattle Mariners

After being a starting pitcher in the minors, Rafael Soriano spent last year pitching out of Seattle's bullpen. He came up for a couple weeks at the end of April, went back down to Triple-A for about a month, and then rejoined the team for the remainder of the year. In all, he pitched 53 innings in 40 games with the Mariners, all in relief, going 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA.

The miniscule ERA is extremely impressive, but do you want to know the two numbers I like the most? 11.55 strikeouts per nine innings and a .162 batting average against. The only pitcher who pitched as many innings as Soriano did and had a higher strikeout rate or a lower opponent batting average was Eric Gagne, the NL Cy Young winner.

After watching Soriano pitch and after staring at his amazing numbers, I would love nothing more than to proclaim him the next John Santana, and to campaign for his place in Seattle's starting five, just like I did for Johan over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, Rafael Soriano appears to be more interested in becoming the next Mariano Rivera.

I'd like to see Soriano start, but once a team and a player begin to agree that the best spot for him is in the bullpen, it's usually a done deal. While Santana held strong to his belief that he deserved to be a starter, often talking to the media about it, Soriano was quoted earlier this week as saying, "I just feel comfortable [in the bullpen]. I want to be a closer, but I'll do anything they want."

Stock: UP



29) Michael Restovich | Minnesota Twins

Stuck with no place to play in Minnesota's crowded outfield/DH/1B picture, Michael Restovich repeated Triple-A in 2003 and saw his numbers drop. Part of that was likely due to Minnesota's Triple-A club switching from the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League to the pitcher-friendly International League. Stagnating at a level he already succeeded at while looking up at a big league club with no openings probably didn't help any either.

After hitting .308/.357/.538 with a homer every 17.8 at bats at Triple-A in 2002, Restovich's numbers there fell to .275/.346/.465 with a homer every 28.4 at bats. The good news is that he cut down on his strikeouts dramatically (although he still struck out in 25.7% of his at bats).

With most other organizations, Restovich would be playing everyday at the major league level in 2004 and would probably have been doing so in 2003. With the Twins, he's at least second on the waiting list for everyday playing time, with Michael Cuddyer ahead of him should a spot open up.

Stock: NEUTRAL



28) Khalil Greene | San Diego Padres

After hitting .317/.368/.525 at Single-A in 2002, Khalil Greene hit a combined .283/.342/.427 split between Double-A and Triple-A last season, with 13 homers and 36 doubles in 548 at bats.

Those are certainly solid numbers for a 23-year-old shortstop playing in the high minors for the first time, but they are also nowhere near what many thought he was capable of coming out of college (where he was the National Player of the Year his senior season at Clemson).

In 768 career minor league at bats, Greene has 22 home runs and a .444 slugging percentage. Again, good numbers, but definitely not great. Greene also hit .215/.271/.400 in 20 games with the Padres at the end of last season and appears set to become their starting shortstop in 2004.

I still like his potential, but Greene is probably never going to be known for his defense and I am no longer as confident in him becoming an offensive force as I once was.

Stock: NEUTRAL



27) Clint Nageotte | Seattle Mariners

Clint Nageotte moved up to Double-A in 2003 and continued to pile up strikeouts. He whiffed 157 batters in 154 innings (9.2/9 IP), bringing his career totals as a pro to 617 Ks in 520 innings (10.7/9 IP).

The two things you always hear about Nageotte are that his slider is perhaps the best in all of minor league baseball and that he can be a pain in the butt to people who try to get him to rely on his other pitches more. What he throws and when he throws it aren't as important to me as the overall results, which have been extremely good.

The one concern is that his strikeout/walk ratio has gone from 3.74/1 in 2001 to 3.15/1 in 2002 and then to just 2.34/1 last year. That's not the type of pattern you like to see. Still, it's hard to argue with more than a strikeout per inning and a 3.10 ERA for a 22-year-old at Double-A, so...

Stock: NEUTRAL



26) Justin Huber | New York Mets

The heir apparent to Mike Piazza behind the plate in New York, Justin Huber began 2003 at the same place he ended 2002, Single-A Port St. Lucie. He did extremely well there, batting .284/.370/.514 in 50 games, before moving on to Double-A Binghamton.

Huber hit just .264/.350/.425 in 55 games at Double-A, which doesn't look particularly impressive, but certainly isn't bad for a 21-year-old in his first taste of the high minors. Huber has yet to bust out offensively, but he's moving along slowly and surely, and still looks like New York's catcher of the future.

Stock: NEUTRAL



25) Adam Wainwright | St. Louis Cardinals

Adam Wainwright turned in his fourth straight good season in 2003, throwing 149.2 innings with a 3.37 ERA at Double-A Greenville. He improved his walk rate from 3.6/9 IP in 2002 to 2.2/9 IP last season, which is great. At the same time though, his strikeout rate fell from 9.2/9 IP to 7.7/9 IP. Still, you've got to like a 22-year-old with a career ERA of 3.37 and a Double-A strikeout/walk ratio of 3.45/1.

Traded from the Braves to the Cardinals for J.D. Drew this off-season, Wainwright should be a big part of the St. Louis starting rotation for a long time, probably beginning this year.

Stock: NEUTRAL



24) Gavin Floyd | Philadelphia Phillies

After doing very well at low Single-A in his first pro season, Gavin Floyd moved up to high Single-A last year and essentially duplicated his 2002 numbers.

YEAR      ERA     SO9     BB9     K/BB     HR9

2002 2.77 7.6 3.5 2.19 .70
2003 3.00 7.5 2.9 2.55 .59

As you can see, Floyd had an ERA and strikeout rate that were basically the same as 2002. He improved his control and thus also his strikeout/walk ratio.

A young pitcher maintaining his level of performance while facing tougher competition is always a good thing, so Floyd's 2003 is definitely a success. His strikeout rates aren't as high as you'd like to see from a top pitching prospect, but Floyd is still very young. He turned 21 late last month, so he could still be adding some velocity.

Stock: NEUTRAL



23) Scott Hairston | Arizona Diamondbacks

After putting up absolutely obscene numbers in his first two pro seasons, Scott Hairston came down to earth in 2003 and was simply very good. After coming into this season with a career hitting line of .346/.430/.697 in 201 minor league games, Hairston hit "only" .276/.345/.469 at Double-A El Paso last year.

Hairston also missed nearly half the season with a back injury, which may have been part of his declining numbers. Either way, a 23-year-old second baseman who slugs .469 at Double-A (even in a hitter's park like El Paso) and brings his career slugging percentage down to .558 is just fine with me.

Stock: NEUTRAL



22) Adrian Gonzalez | Texas Rangers

At the end of my comment on Adrian Gonzalez last year, I said the following:

Gonzalez has been involved in several trade rumors this off-season and the Marlins do have some other options at first base throughout their organization.

Gonzalez, the former #1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, was traded from Florida to Texas for Ugueth Urbina at last year's trading deadline. It seems hard for me to imagine trading a #1 pick for a half-season of Ugueth Urbina, but the Marlins have a World Series trophy that says they were right, so I won't argue the point.

What the trade does show is that the Marlins lost confidence in Gonzalez's abilities, which is understandable considering his hitting over the past two years. After hitting .312/.382/.486 at Single-A in 2001, Gonzalez dropped to .266/.344/.437 at Double-A in 2002. Then last year, while struggling with a wrist injury, he hit just .269/.329/.365 between Double-A and Triple-A.

Gonzalez is still a good prospect, but there's no doubt his stock has dropped quite a bit.

Stock: DOWN



21) Travis Hafner | Cleveland Indians

Travis Hafner's rookie season with the Indians was disappointing, but actually still fairly good. He won a starting job out of spring training, but then struggled mightily, hitting just .167/.244/.359 in the season's first month. When he went down with a broken toe in the middle of May, he was hitting just .206/.280/.392.

Hafner returned in July and put up some very impressive numbers through the end of the year. In the final three months of the season, he hit .278/.352/.531 with 10 homers and 13 doubles in 194 at bats. Even with his horrible opening month and the injury, Hafner finished his rookie year batting .254/.327/.485 in 91 games, which isn't too bad. His overall production resulted in a .277 Equivalent Average, which was safely above league-average for a first baseman.

I still expect Hafner to become one of the better hitting first basemen/DHs in the American League, starting in 2004.

Stock: NEUTRAL



20) Scott Kazmir | New York Mets

A little of what I said about Scott Kazmir last year:

I fought the urge to include Kazmir on this list, I swear I did. A high school pitcher with only 18 career pro innings shouldn't be a on a list like this right? Well, probably not, but I couldn't stop myself.

[...]

A diminutive high school pitcher with almost zero pro experience has no business on this list, but he's on it anyway. He might be the next Sandy Koufax or he might be the next Brien Taylor, who knows.

Kazmir took a very small step towards Sandy Koufax and made me look good last year, dominating the competition at two levels of Single-A. Overall for the year, he made 25 starts and pitched a total of 109.1 innings, striking out an amazing 145 batters (11.9/9 IP).

Whiffing that many guys as a 19-year-old is pretty incredible and was a nice follow-up to Kazmir's 0.50 ERA pro debut in 2002. For a young pitcher who throws pure smoke, Kazmir's walk rate (3.6/9 IP) wasn't even all that bad.

All in all, Kazmir's career is off to about as good a start as possible.

Stock: UP



19) Marlon Byrd | Philadelphia Phillies

In ranking Marlon Byrd #19 last year, I said the following:

Byrd is ready, both offensively and defensively, and now that [Doug] Glanville's days of making 500 outs a year are over with - at least in Philadelphia - Byrd can step in as the everyday center fielder.

He did exactly that in 2003, hitting .303/.366/.418 in 135 games with the Phillies.

Byrd's power numbers weren't quite up to his minor league levels, but you can't really complain about a rookie center fielder hitting .303. Byrd ranked 13th among major league center fielders in Runs Above Replacement Position, despite missing several weeks with a knee injury. He hit .313/.369/.438 in the second-half and is a good bet to be a top-10 center fielder for years to come.

Stock: NEUTRAL



18) Jose Lopez | Seattle Mariners

I began my comment on Jose Lopez last year with the following:

I suppose that every person ranking prospects and trying to predict the future gets that "feeling" about certain lesser-known players. I get that feeling about Jose Lopez.

Perhaps the next time I get one of those "feelings," I should just go to a doctor.

Lopez hit just .258/.303/.403 last season, which is certainly not what I had in mind when I wrote that last year. Still, it's important to remember that he was a 19-year-old playing at Double-A, so the fact that he simply held his own is worthwhile in itself.

Beyond his age, there are other bright spots. Lopez hit 13 homers and 35 doubles in 132 games, stole 18 bases and, although he didn't walk much, he also only struck out 56 times. I still think he's got a chance to become a special player, but 2003 was definitely a disappointment.

Stock: DOWN



17) Miguel Cabrera | Florida Marlins

Here's a little of what I wrote last year about Miguel Cabrera, who came into last season with just 18 career homers in 1,162 minor league at bats:

Cabrera spent 2002 playing at Jupiter of the Florida State League, which is a very tough place (and league) to hit home runs. He only hit 9 dingers, but his total of 43 doubles is an extremely good sign for power yet to come. As he develops physically, look for many of those doubles to turn into homers.

Cabrera made the jump to Double-A at the start of last season and absolutely dominated. He batted .365/.429/.609 with 10 homers and 29 doubles in 69 games. That's a 22 homer/65 double pace projected out to 155 games.

The Marlins called him up in late June and Cabrera played both third base and left field. In 87 games with Florida, he hit .268/.325/.468 with 12 homers and 21 doubles.

If you combine his numbers at Double-A with his numbers in the majors, you get .312/.376/.532 with 22 homers, 50 doubles and 121 RBIs in 156 games. Oh, and he also hit .265/.315/.471 with four homers and 12 RBIs in 17 playoff games. Not bad for a 20-year-old, huh?

Stock: UP



16) Hee Seop Choi | Florida Marlins

In ranking Hee Seop Choi #16 last year, I said the following:

Don't worry Cubs fans, Eric Karros blocking Hee Seop Choi from the starting first base job would be like asking someone to block Mo Vaughn from the buffet. Choi is too good and it just isn't going to happen.

Okay, so I was wrong. Not only was Eric Karros the starter for the majority of the year, the Cubs actually traded Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee this off-season.

Choi's rookie season was viewed as a disappointment by most, but I think that's being unfair. First of all, his final numbers (.218/.350/.421) were just fine for a 24-year-old rookie. Beyond that, Choi was doing very well prior to injuring his back in early June, when he crashed into Kerry Wood while trying to field a pop-up. At the time, Choi was at .244/.389/.496. He was out for nearly a month and then found himself on the bench most of the time when he returned.

Hopefully he'll get a chance to actually play everyday for the Marlins in 2004, because he's a very good hitter.

Stock: NEUTRAL



15) Joe Borchard | Chicago White Sox

2003 was an absolute mess for Joe Borchard. He came into the season a career .286/.372/.498 hitter with a home run every 21.6 at bats, and spent 2003 repeating Triple-A after hitting .272/.349/.498 with 20 homers and 35 doubles there in 2002.

The results the second time around were awful. Borchard hit just .253/.307/.398 and, as usual, struggled to make contact, striking out in 24% of his at bats. In addition to that, his walk rate, which was once quite good, deteriorated to the point that he walked a total of 27 times. Even his power, which was always his best asset, vanished. He hit just 13 homers in 114 games.

Stock: DOWN



14) Jeff Mathis | Anaheim Angels

It's always risky ranking young catchers who have yet to play above Single-A highly, but Jeff Mathis really impressed me in 2002, when he hit .287/.346/.444 with 54 XBHs. I ranked him 14th overall and third among catchers.

His 2003 season was even more impressive. Mathis started the year at high Single-A and hit .323/.384/.500 with 11 homers and 28 doubles in 98 games. He then moved up to Double-A and finished the year hitting .284/.364/.464 in 24 games there. Overall, he batted .315 with 13 homers and 39 doubles in 122 games.

The great thing about Mathis is that his defense is usually what people rave about. At this point, he looks like the total package and, if it weren't for that kid from Minnesota, he'd be the best catching prospect in baseball.

Stock: UP



13) Rich Harden | Oakland A's

My comment on Rich Harden last year turned out to be one of my best predictions of the year:

Harden appears to be on the same path as Tim Hudson and Barry Zito - start the season in Triple-A and, if all goes well, make a second half Major League debut, pitch around 100 innings with the A's and then join the rotation full-time the next year.

Well, okay, it wasn't 100% on the money. Harden actually started the season at Double-A, not Triple-A. Of course, he was promoted to Triple-A after two Double-A starts in which he combined to throw 13 perfect innings (that's right - no hits, no walks).

All went well in Triple-A (9-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 88.2 innings) and Harden made his major league debut in the second-half. He pitched a total of 74.2 innings for Oakland (does that qualify for "around 100"?) and will be a full-time member of their starting rotation this season.

He's the next great Oakland starter (as if they needed another one).

Stock: UP



12) Casey Kotchman | Anaheim Angels

Here's a little of what I said about Casey Kotchman last year:

If real life worked like a Playstation game, the Angels could just turn injuries to "off" and Kotchman would have nothing to worry about. Barring some technological and biological advancements that I am unaware of, that is not yet an option, so staying on the field will be a huge key for Kotchman throughout the rest of his career.

Kotchman once again was injured in 2003. It was his wrist in 2002 and this time it was a broken hand and a torn hamstring. When he was healthy, Kotchman hit just like he always does, batting .350/.441/.525 in 57 games at high Single-A.

I am of two minds on Kotchman. On one hand, .350/.441/.525 for a 20-year-old at high Single-A is damn impressive, and he has basically hit the snot out of the ball wherever he has gone. On the other hand, for whatever reason, he simply hasn't been able to stay healthy. Some of that is bad luck. Heck, maybe all of it is bad luck, I don't know.

Either way, not staying on the field should impact a prospect's status in my opinion, although Kotchman is so good that it doesn't drop him much. If you promised me he'd be healthy for the next 10 years, there are very few prospects I'd take over him.

Stock: NEUTRAL



11) Justin Morneau | Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau started 2003 on fire. He began the year at Double-A and hit .329/.384/.620 in 20 games there before being promoted to Triple-A. Then he hit .297/.377/.623 in 37 games at Triple-A, before being called up to the big leagues for the first time.

At the time of his being called up, Morneau was batting .309/.380/.622 with 19 homers in 57 total games. His hot hitting continued for a little while with the Twins and he was batting .353/.398/.588 through his first 12 games.

Morneau then went into a tailspin, going 12 for his next 72 (.167) and was sent back to Triple-A. His struggles continued there and he hit just .236 in his final 127 at bats of the year.

There is no doubt Morneau struggled during the last part of the year, but his dominance in the first-half should not be forgotten. He is still just 22 and definitely on-track for stardom.

Stock: NEUTRAL


*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 23, 2004

Joe Mays + Tommy John = Out for Season

This new thing I've stumbled across isn't quite at the same level of infuriating me as all the people writing about how Billy Beane wrote Moneyball, but as a Twins fan and someone who writes about baseball every day, it still bugs me.

Twins pitcher Joe Mays struggled through the first-half of the 2003 season, eventually losing his job in the starting rotation to Johan Santana.

In late August, Mays complained of some soreness in his elbow and revealed that he had been pitching through discomfort for much of the year. He then experienced the kiss of death for a pitcher when he was "examined by Dr. James Andrews."

When you see those five words in print, there is usually a follow-up article a few days later that describes an injury, a surgery and a rehabilitation timetable. Sure enough, that's what happened to Mays.

Dr. Andrews found a "partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament" in Mays' elbow and Mays underwent "Tommy John surgery" on it a few days later. The recovery time for Tommy John surgery varies and has become shorter recently, but it is still usually around a year, and sometimes longer. So Mays, who had the surgery in mid-September, was essentially out for all of 2004.

Fast forward to now, about six months later. Mays is rehabbing, pitchers and catchers are reporting, and baseball is right around the corner. Suddenly, Joe Mays has made a miraculous recovery. Or so you'd think.

From The Sporting News' Minnesota Twins "spring training preview" that appeared in the February 16th edition of the magazine:

...with LHP Johan Santana and RHPs Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse and Joe Mays back, the rotation will be solid if not quite as formidable.

[...]

Full seasons from Santana and Mays and big contributions from the newcomers will be imperative if the team hopes to to repeat as a division winner in 2004.

[...]

Rotation: Brad Radke, RH; Johan Santana, LH; Kyle Lohse, RH; Joe Mays, RH; Adam Johnson, RH.

In what was a fairly short piece, Joe Mays was mentioned as a prominent member of Minnesota's 2004 starting rotation three times. He was said to be "back," a full season from him was said to be "imperative" to the team's success, and he was listed as one of five members of the starting rotation.

The Sporting News and FOXSports.com have recently started to work together, so that same Twins spring training preview also appeared on FOXSports.com, which is where I first saw it.

After what must have been a deluge of emails from Twins fans, FOXSports.com deleted much of the incorrect information from the online version of the article. Amazingly, despite obviously trying to get rid of the stuff about Mays, whomever did the deleting still left in the line, "Full seasons from Santana and Mays and big contributions from the newcomers will be imperative if the team hopes to to repeat as a division winner in 2004."

As of me writing this, that line about Mays' 2004 contributions still remains in the online article.

The Sporting News, which doesn't have the luxury of being able to quickly delete inaccurate content, ran the following in their February 23rd issue:

Upon further review ... Twins pitcher Joe Mays is expected to miss the 2004 season because of an elbow injury. The information was incorrect in the February 16 issue.

But okay, you might saying "What's the big deal? So The Sporting News didn't realize Joe Mays was injured. Who cares?"

Here's the punch-line to all of this...

The guy who wrote that Minnesota Twins spring training preview for The Sporting News and FOXSports.com is Mark Sheldon. In addition to his work for The Sporting News, Sheldon is also the Minnesota Twins beat writer for MLB.com. He is the guy who covers the Twins all year and he is the guy who writes articles about them for MLB.com on a daily basis.

In fact, Sheldon wrote about Joe Mays' elbow injury and Joe Mays' Tommy John surgery.

In an MLB.com article from September 9, 2003, Mark Sheldon begins:

Twins right-hander Joe Mays will have Tommy John surgery performed on his pitching elbow, causing him to miss the entire 2004 season.

The article also includes information about the surgery, discussion of Mays' struggles before the surgery, and quotes about the injury from Twins GM Terry Ryan and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

A few days later, Sheldon gives an update on Mays:

The Twins said the right-hander's surgery, performed Thursday by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., was successful. Mays had ligament replacement surgery in his elbow and is expected to miss the entire 2004 season.

Then a month later, after the regular season was over, Sheldon wrote the "Twins season in review" article for MLB.com, which included the following:

There's always next year -- or, likely, 2005:

After elbow problems marred his 2002 season, right-hander Joe Mays hoped this would be the year he could return to his 17-win form of 2001. He struggled, though, hammered by opposing hitters and eventually evicted from the rotation twice.

After an 8-8 record and 6.30 ERA for the season, the really bad news came in September, when he opted for Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn ligament. Mays will be out 12-to-18 months and likely won't be back on a mound for Minnesota until 2005.

I think you get the point.

How does someone being paid to cover the Twins for media outlets as large as MLB.com, The Sporting News and FOXSports.com write stories about Joe Mays being out for 2004 in September, recap that story in October, and then write a Twins preview in February in which Joe Mays is a big part of the 2004 Twins?

To be honest, I don't remember ever reading something written by Mark Sheldon in the past. I mean, I'm sure I have read his work a few times, but I don't frequent MLB.com or FOXSports.com, so I probably just don't remember the name.

For all I know, he could be the greatest beat writer in the world, and maybe this was just one instance where he messed up. I doubt it, but I guess it's possible. For now though, my first and only real experience with his work leaves me somewhere between very confused and incredibly bothered.

With more and more websites and magazines popping up these days, the key is finding information from sources you trust and respect. My question then is why in the world would anyone ever pay attention to a "spring training preview" or a "season in review" or anything of that sort from this writer?

What kind of quality can you expect the Twins information you get from a source like that to be in the future? And really, why would you take anything he has to say as a "Twins reporter" from now on seriously?

Sheldon's work in this instance is sloppy, inaccurate and disappointing, but even more than that, it is confusing. I just don't see how something like this can happen. How do you cover a team on a daily basis, write stories specifically about Joe Mays missing the entire 2004 season, and then forget everything six months later and write as if he is some big key for the Twins in 2004? It's damn near unbelievable.

I read the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on a regular basis and they have two Twins writers - Lavelle E. Neal and Jim Souhan. Perhaps I am spoiled reading them (I happen to think they are both quite good) or maybe I'm giving them too much credit, but I can't even imagine a scenario in which either of them would write something as blatantly inaccurate and obviously sloppy as Sheldon's information on Mays.

Information is only as good as its source. What good is an opinion from someone you don't trust? Why read a story from someone you don't feel is knowledgeable?

If you can't rely upon accurate information about the Minnesota Twins from someone paid to cover them on a daily basis for three large media outlets, I think there is something seriously wrong with that person and those outlets.

You'll never meet anyone more obsessed with Twins information than I am, but suffice it to say I won't be going to MLB.com or The Sporting News to quench my thirst for Twins news anytime soon.



Note: Yes, I am aware that Peter Gammons made a similar comment about Mays being in the 2004 rotation in one of his columns from over the weekend. I actually had something about Gammons in this entry originally, but I decided to cut it (can you imagine me actually deleting words?).

Anyway, there are several big differences between what Gammons did and what Sheldon did. First of all, Gammons covers all 30 teams, not just the Twins. Second, Gammons did not write multiple stories about Mays' injury and Mays' surgery. Third, HE IS PETER GAMMONS!

Note #2: According to a reader who exchanged emails with Mark Sheldon, Sheldon says he was on vacation and that a substitute writer wrote the incorrect Twins spring training preview discussed above. The mistake then was the substitute's and not his, and also The Sporting News' and FOXSports.com's, for a) printing the incorrect material and b) putting the wrong byline on the column.

You can, of course, come to your own conclusions...

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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