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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bryan Smith On Super Sophomores

As we exit February and head into March, with its emphasis on real spring training games, it's only appropriate that Bryan Smith writes about the top 20 sophomores in baseball. There's a couple germane to this blog:
13. Casey Kotchman - 1B - Los Angeles Angels

Talk about a player PECOTA doesn't like. Thanks to a few years littered with injuries, Major League ineffectiveness, and a lack of opportunity, Kotchman is not a player that is projected well. His top ten comparables are a sorry group, and his high for the next five years -- in terms of WARP -- is 2.6. However, it's a prediction system far from perfect, and in Kotchman's case, numbers don't tell the whole story. For years, Casey has drawn the same comparison: Mark Grace. His fielding has always been lauded, as have his contact skills. Some would say that Kotchman's power would eventually develop, and his offense at first would be way above-average. Others, not so much. At this point, I think Kotchman is -- for his career -- a 15-25 home run player. To be successful, he'll need an average upwards of .300. He can do it.

15. Ervin Santana - SP - Los Angeles Angels

I'm not sure we really appreciate what Santana has done here. Sure, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Washburn and John Lackey all had good 2005 seasons, and were more responsible for the Angels performance than Santana's. However, does anyone really believe that without Ervin, the Angels would have made the playoffs? For an October run, every team needs a player that steps up at the right time and replaces someone injured. That is what Santana did, and in effect, made Washburn's high price tag expendable this winter. Santana was on and off with his game last year, but had flashes of the lightning stuff that gained him notoriety in the minors. He's got a lot more bust potential than the names on this list, but he also could be really successful atop the Angel rotation.

What's darned impressive is the fact that the A's have four players on this list; on the other hand, Bryan drops the caveat for 19th rated Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson (and probably applicable to 17th rated Joe Blanton as well) that
... Swisher and Johnson don't have any traits that are fantastic, but enough tools needed for success. This is very similar to my comment on Blanton, and in fact, could be considered a bit on Oakland A's players in general. This team is filled with solid players, top to bottom, that will make them a competitive team on an annual basis. But a World Series team? I don't see it, as there aren't very many players that could have fantastic career years. This holds true for Swisher and Johnson, neither of whom will be taking a large step in 2006.
Of course, people said that of Garret Anderson at one time, and Darin Erstad before he came up. Critics of Oakland's farm system have pounded on their relatively low draft position and focus on college players as handicaps and limiting factors, but I'm not so sure. Billy Beane has shown remarkable resiliance in confounding the critics, graduating players like Rookies of the Year Huston Street and Bobby Crosby from a supposedly barren cupboard. This year, Baseball America ranked Oakland's farm 26th overall (IIRC), yet they seem to have a fair number of prospects about to make the majors.

One point I've been quick to make about the Dodgers farm system is that its lack of productivity is immediately apparent at the major league level. The alleged gap in the in the A's minors must remain an open question until the players arrive.

I wonder how much that the difference between the A's (mediocre prospect ratings, but strong big league performances) and the Dodgers (strong prospect ratings, but mediocre big league performances) can be attributed to minor league coaching and organizational philosophy.

Whatever anyone thinks about the A's Moneyball approach, having such a strongly defined policy has to help prospect development (they know that if they do certain things, they have a good shot at the big club). Also, the Dodgers could be showing signs of the Fox clearing the organization in the late 90s (and thank god for them gift wrapping the Angels Mike Scioscia).

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