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  • Gammons: Bumper crop of young talent

    Aug. 21

    There is no Albert Pujols rookie of the year, no Fred Lynn/Jim Rice race a la 1974. Rockies outfielder Clint Barmes got hurt in early June, so Astros center fielder Willy Taveras and one of the Athletics wunderkind -- Huston Street or Nick Swisher -- could well win the awards, but while they may not have Pujols/Lynn/Rice rookie numbers, 15 years from now we may look back and think of 2005 as one great season for players making their major league debuts.

    And Francisco Liriano, Craig Hansen, Felix Pie and Jeff Zimmerman have yet to arrive.

    It is not unusual for players to get their feet wet in one season, then begin their legitimate tests in their first full seasons. See David Wright, Jhonny Peralta and Scott Kazmir -- all of whom have blossomed this season after getting time in 2004. So, scanning the players who arrived in 2005, one can see future All-Star rosters, not to mention another six years of Atlanta Braves power. Or Chris Shelton, whom the Tigers rule-fived from the Pirates in December 2003 and now has scouts comparing him to Edgar Martinez.

    Nearly 70 general managers, front office officials, scouts, managers and coaches were asked which of this year's arrivals they think will be the best players five years from now. Five -- Rickie Weeks, Conor Jackson, Jeff Francouer, Huston Street and Zach Duke -- dominated the ballots. But there were 14 players who got at least five votes, and Braves third baseman Andy Marte, Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander, White Sox pitcher Brandon McCarthy and Minnesota's Scott Baker might have shown up on more had they not been sent back to the minors.

    The results:

    1. Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers "He's going to be a dominant power-speed guy for years," says one GM, who watched Weeks hit 11 homers (and steal 11 bases) in fewer than 250 at-bats. "He does everything well. With Weeks and [Prince] Fielder and the foundation that Doug Melvin and Ned Yost have built, Milwaukee will be a factor in the NL Central beginning next season."

    2. Conor Jackson, 1B-OF, DiamondbacksJackson has been set back by an eye injury and the fact that Arizona is loaded with first basemen/outfielders. But even hitting below .200 in a few games, he still had as many extra-base hits and walks as strikeouts, numbers that made his minor league career scary. "His strike zone and eye-hand coordination should make him a great middle of the order hitter for a long time," says one GM. "Corner bats are hard to come by these days, and he's got everything -- power and average." With Carlos Quentin and Steven Drew, the D-Backs will have three prime young positional regulars next season.

    3. Jeff Francoeur, OF, Braves "He's the Braves' answer to Vladimir Guerrero," says one scout. "He swings at everything, but he hits the ball so hard it's scary. He's a monster, he runs well, he's got a great arm, he's fearless. [Kelly] Johnson, [Andy] Marte, [Brian] McCann ... the Braves scouting department is unbelievable." Everyone loves the 10 homers and 1.128 OPS in Francoeur's first 33 games, but some see a red flag with zero walks and 23 strikeouts. "He's going to be a very good player," warns one GM, "but that kind of number usually catches up. Check back in. Ten years and we'll see who's better, Francoeur or [Florida OF] Jeremy Hermeda." They'll both probably be on the All-Star team. Incidentally, in the 2002 draft, Francoeur was considered unsignable, headed to Clemson as a safety/outfielder. Boston, which did not have a first-round pick, had a pre-draft deal cut with Francouer. Braves scouting director Roy Clark found out, did the same deal with the 23rd pick, and Red Sox scouting director David Chadd cut a deal with a left-handed pitcher named Jon Lester, who may well be in Boston's rotation next season and may be, along with Liriano, one of the best left-handed prospects in the game.

    4. Huston Street, closer, AthleticsHey, he's already an elite big league closer out of the 2004 draft: 16 saves, 60 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings, a 1.36 ERA. He and Chad Cordero are the models for Joey Devine and Hansen.

    5. Zach Duke, LHP, Pirates To start 6-0, 1.87 ... "If he stays healthy," says one scout, "he'll be a legitimate number one. He had great command, he's tough to pick up and he's poised like he's 30."

    6. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners"He's 19, he throws 97, he throws strikes and he has a 1.24 ERA in his first four starts," says a rival manager. "How high is his ceiling? As high as his health allows."

    7. Dan Johnson, 1B, AthleticsHe started his career with 34 walks, 26 extra base hits and 28 strikeouts. "He's just a natural middle-of-the-order hitter who can hit good pitching," says one GM. "He can flat mash."

    8. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies"People can talk all they want about how much he strikes out," says an opposing manager, "but he is strong, has a good swing and is a lot better athlete than people realize. He also gets as many big hits as anyone in the Phladelphia lineup." Hats off to Ed Wade for not trading Howard, and now the Phillies may see if some AL team will pay half of Jim Thome's contract for his three remaining years.

    9. Ervin Santana, RHP, Angels "We may have seen five legit number one starters come up this year in Santana, Hernandez, Duke, [Justin] Verlander and [Jonathan] Papelbon," says one assistant GM. "Don't rule Santana out from being the best of them all." He throws in the mid-90s, but he's shown that he can throw his slider and changeup for strikes early in the count and has dominated good teams like the White Sox and Red Sox. "He's got a chance to be very special," says Mike Scioscia.

    10. Jonathan Papelpon, RHP, Red Sox"He's got what you can't teach -- that fastball with late life that hitters can't lay off as it darts up and out of the strike zone," says one GM. "He's got poise, and as he learns from Curt Schilling, that ability to go up, then pound the outside corner down and away with his split may make for a great pitcher." Papelbon was a closer at Mississippi State, and may end up in the bullpen in September.

    11. Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers
    12. Aaron Hill, 2B-3B, Blue Jays
    13. Brian McCann, C, Braves
    14. Nick Swisher, OF, Athletics
    15. Jeff Francis, LHP, Rockies
    16. Russell Adams, SS, Blue Jays
    17. Clint Barmes, SS-2B, Rockies
    18. Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers
    19. Brandon McCarthy, RHP, White Sox
    20. Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates

    Also receiving votes: Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees; Scott Baker, RHP, Twins; Nook Logan, CF, Tigers; Hayden Penn, RHP, Orioles; Joe Blanton, RHP, Athletics; Scott Olsen, LHP, Marlins; Matt Murton, OF, Cubs; Johnny Cedeno, SS, Cubs; Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds; Kyle Davies, RHP, Braves; Yukiesky Betancourt, SS, Mariners; Chien-Ming Wang, RHP, Yankees.

    Players receiving votes who made their debuts in 2004: Scott Kazmir, LHP, Devil Rays; Casey Kotchman, 1B, Angels.

    Future star some forgot played this season: Andy Marte, 3B, Braves.

    Royals flush with positive vibes
    Now that the Royals' losing streak is over, Allard Baird and Buddy Bell can return to the task of trying to bring Kansas City back to respectability. "Buddy was great through it all," says Baird. "He kept telling ownership, 'These kids have to get out of this so they can move on with their careers.'" Baird has gone on several talk shows reminding fans "to not give up on the direction. This is the direction we have to go."

    Owner David Glass has told Baird that the payroll will increase next season, and Baird hopes to find a corner outfielder, a second baseman, one or two starters, a reliever and a utilityman. It has been suggested that one way to start the process is by trading Mike Sweeney for prospects, but while there have been discussions with Texas that could lead to something in the offseason, thus far there has been little talk with the Angels despite their injuries. Bill Stoneman may have the best farm system in the American League, but he is hesitant to trade any of the Angels' top prospects like Kotchman, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick or Mike Napoli -- not to mention take a large chunk of the $22M Sweeney has coming to him in 2006-07.

    Glass doesn't want to simply clear payroll with Sweeney and get no players in return, as he's taken enough of a beating about payroll. It's like the Cincinnati situation two years ago. The Reds were clobbered for giving away Aaron Boone and Scott Williamson. Now they're being criticized for not moving Junior Griffey.

    First baseman Justin Huber will get his shot in September, as will LHP J.P. Howell and catcher Matt Tupman. They hope that bringing top pick Alex Gordon into Kansas City this week will help bridge the gap between the $3.8M offer and $5.4M asking price; if Gordon gets out and plays, his bat is so far advanced that he and 19-year old Billy Butler, who has risen to Double A in a year, could see the lights of Royals Stadium before the end of next season.

    "We knew this process would take awhile," says Baird. "We knew it would be painful at times. We didn't know it could be this painful. Hopefully, we're all better off for getting through it, and we can have a decent finish to the season."

    Hey, after 1961, the Phillies hired Gene Mauch and the next season they were 81-80. Frank Robinson got the '88 Orioles through their 21-game losing streak, and the next season weren't eliminated until the last weekend of the season in Toronto.

    Light up ahead in Pittsburgh
    One team that has begun to see the light is Pittsburgh. Duke has come in and been brilliant, which gives the Pirates hope of strong pitching in 2006 with Oliver Perez, Kip Wells, Dave Williams, Bryan Bullington, Sean Burnett, John Vanbenscoten, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and a deep bullpen anchored by Mike Gonzalez and Jose Mesa.

    When Dave Littlefield took over as GM, he knew the fastest way to rebuild the franchise was with pitching. "But now we're beginning to see position players get here," he says. He traded for Jason Bay. Castillo can play. Doumit appears to be a good offensive catcher. Craig Wilson can hit, Jack Wilson is a proven defensive whiz. Now, Littlefield can let the thin pitching market work its way out, let A.J. Burnett, Matt Morris and Kevin Millwood sign, then go to the winter meetings and judge the market for someone like Wells.

    "We have a ways to go," says Littlefield. "But our fans deserve a product. Some people wondered why we didn't do more at the trading deadline, but after all these years, we can't offer our fans some more A-ball prospects. They need to see a product on the field in which they believe there is hope. We're getting close to that now."

    News and notes
    Among all the waiver hijinks, the Devil Rays waited until this past week to start putting players on the wire, and among the first three days of waivers, every one but Travis Harper was blocked. "I'm not sure they would have traded, anyway," says one GM. Hey, they asked for Hanley Ramirez for Harper in June, and for Jonny Gomes in July. Problem is, Delmon Young will be ready and Rocco Baldelli will be back next spring, so if B.J. Upton can't play third and has to go to the outfield, they will have to make some creative deals with Carl Crawford, Young, Upton, Baldelli, Aubrey Huff and Joey Gathright. ... Boston got $750,000 from the Diamondbacks when they took Jose Cruz Jr., but the Dodgers claimed him on waivers, which meant that the Red Sox made close to $1.1M on Cruz, enough for three David Wells starts. ... The McCarthy-esque rumor-mongering about players on the Internet -- and in some media outlets -- that speculates about positive steroids tests has gotten to a dangerous, insidious point. Johnny Damon actually addressed his rumors, which was the equivalent of him having to announce he is not a member of Al-Qaeda. One star player's rumors turned out to be completely false; another player was actually left a telephone message that his name was being released, and it was a player who because of family health issues could not have done steroids. ... Hat's off to Armando Benitez. When he tore his groin muscle on April 26, he could have rehabbed at a slow rate, collected his money and been ready for the start of the '06 season. Instead, he was using a walker and throwing two weeks after his operation and, this week, returned to try to get the Giants back into the race. ... The NL West went into Sunday 66 games under .500 against teams outside the division. Speaking of division play, when the AL East returns to playing one another soon, remember their records against division foes: Toronto (26-19), Baltimore (27-20), New York (20-24), Boston (22-26), Tampa (22-28). And the Devil Rays have the second-best record in the league since the All-Star break. ... But that won't stop Peter Angelos and possibly George Steinbrenner from going after Lou Piniella once the season is over. ... One club's statistical analysis of productivity compared to positional averages revealed the following top 10 in the American League, in order: Alex Rodriguez, Travis Hafner, Miguel Tejada, Jason Varitek, Vladimir Guerrero, Jason Giambi, David Ortiz, Jhonny Peralta, Brian Roberts and Manny Ramirez. Dan Johnson is 13th, Chris Shelton 16th, Jonny Gomes 18th. ... Mark Bellhorn may have been booed out of Boston, but there were countless fans who will never forget what he did to help them win the World Series in 2004. When Juliana Hatfield and The Gentlemen played The Paradise in Boston on Saturday night, Juliana put a picture of Bellhorn on stage -- in tribute.

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    It takes a special columnist to say "Royals have positive vibes."

    And I really believe Pittsburgh will be good next year. Er, well, better.
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    • #3
      ...another player was actually left a telephone message that his name was being released, and it was a player who because of family health issues could not have done steroids.
      Eckstein?
      The noise was good, but I thought they phoned in a lot of the funk.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by gibsongirl@Aug 21 2005, 11:23 PM
        ...another player was actually left a telephone message that his name was being released, and it was a player who because of family health issues could not have done steroids.
        Eckstein?
        What health problem would prevent someone from doing steroids?
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        • #5
          Originally posted by BlueBrained+Aug 21 2005, 11:37 PM-->
          QUOTE(BlueBrained @ Aug 21 2005, 11:37 PM)

        • #6
          Originally posted by *007*+Aug 21 2005, 11:38 PM-->
          QUOTE(*007* @ Aug 21 2005, 11:38 PM)
          Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:37 PM

        • #7
          Originally posted by BlueBrained+Aug 21 2005, 11:41 PM-->
          QUOTE(BlueBrained @ Aug 21 2005, 11:41 PM)
          Originally posted by *007*@Aug 21 2005, 11:38 PM
          Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:37 PM

        • #8
          Originally posted by *007*+Aug 21 2005, 11:44 PM-->
          QUOTE(*007* @ Aug 21 2005, 11:44 PM)
          Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:41 PM
          Originally posted by *007*@Aug 21 2005, 11:38 PM
          Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:37 PM

        • #9
          Originally posted by BlueBrained+Aug 21 2005, 11:41 PM-->
          QUOTE(BlueBrained @ Aug 21 2005, 11:41 PM)
          Originally posted by *007*@Aug 21 2005, 11:38 PM
          Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:37 PM

        • #10
          The "family health issues" is the tipoff that it's Eckstein he's referring to.

          After his playing days, Eck will be donating a kidney to one of his brothers. That kidney could be worthless if its subjected to steroids.
          I like cheese.

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          • #11
            Originally posted by BlueBrained+Aug 21 2005, 10:46 PM-->
            QUOTE(BlueBrained @ Aug 21 2005, 10:46 PM)
            Originally posted by *007*@Aug 21 2005, 11:44 PM
            Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:41 PM
            Originally posted by *007*@Aug 21 2005, 11:38 PM
            Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:37 PM

          • #12
            Originally posted by blue zone+Aug 22 2005, 11:59 AM-->
            QUOTE(blue zone @ Aug 22 2005, 11:59 AM)
            Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 10:46 PM
            Originally posted by *007*@Aug 21 2005, 11:44 PM
            Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:41 PM
            Originally posted by *007*@Aug 21 2005, 11:38 PM
            Originally posted by [email protected] 21 2005, 11:37 PM

          • #13
            I picked up Johnson and Howard in our Pay Keeper League so that was cool.

            Friggin Dvyyyyy got Weeks before I could though!! :angry:
            Go Cards ...12 in 13.


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            • #14
              Gammons mentions the glut of OFs in TB.

              I wonder if they'd be interested in Marquis for either Crawford or Baldelli....although I'm sure Huff would be the first one traded out of the 6 mentioned.
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              • #15
                Originally posted by BringBackZezel@Aug 22 2005, 12:24 PM
                Gammons mentions the glut of OFs in TB.

                I wonder if they'd be interested in Marquis for either Crawford or Baldelli....although I'm sure Huff would be the first one traded out of the 6 mentioned.
                chuck lamar would want more than marquis b/c he's nutjob....

                "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
                Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
                -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

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