Saturday, June 18, 2005

Bats or arms?

In light of Felix Hernandez's bursitis in his shoulder, I began to think about hitters versus pitchers when projecting prospects. Hernandez has received varying amounts of praise from those who have seen him pitch, but for two years he hasn't been allowed to throw his slider because of injury concerns, and now he's missing time with mild bursitis.

I started to flip through past top prospects, and I came to the conclusion that hitting prospects are much safer bets than pitching. The latter simply rarely works out. Need proof? Excellent.

Let's take the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2005, and only two are pitchers. One is the aforementioned Hernandez, and the other is Scott Kazmir. If I were making my own prospects list, I would've left out Kazmir (because he pitched in the bigs last season), which would have left only Hernandez. That would leave can't miss studs like Rickie Weeks, Joel Guzman, Prince Fielder and Andy Marte to fill out the other 10 spots. But its not simply a numbers game of hitters versus pitchers. In years past, hitters just simply have a greater chance of sticking in the majors and succeeding, and pitchers that do stick - well - they aren't necessarily gems.

Since 2000, only 16 starting pitchers have been ranked in the top 10 on prospect lists. Of those, only Mark Prior, Josh Beckett, Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia can be considered successful. Even then, Prior has found the disabled lists 5 times in his career, Beckett and Sheets have dealt with a couple injuries, and Sabathia's success is based solely on his ability to hold on to a rotation spot. He's far from a lock to be an effective pitcher for a decade-plus. John Patterson was a top 10 prospect in 2000, but back injuries have hindered his progress and he's just now starting to round into ace form. On the other hand, such arms as Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, Gavin Floyd, Rick Ankiel, Jon Rauch and Juan Cruz have never panned out.

Jackson was actually recently demoted from AAA to AA, and may never reach the majors when it seemed at one point he would be a No. 1 starter. Miller has been injured off an on. Floyd had a brief stint in the majors - got crushed - got sent to AAA - got rocked some more and now is a shell of a pitcher that he used to be. Ankiel is a minor league outfielder now, Rauch has never been an effective big leaguer, and Cruz has bounced from a spot starter to a marginal bullpen arm.

On the contrast, lets look at top 10 position players in the past few years. In 2003, the top 3 prospects were Mark Teixeira, Rocco Baldelli and Jose Reyes. Other top 10 prospects have included Hideki Matsui, Hank Blalock, Corey Patterson, Ichiro, Nick Johnson Pat Burrell, Vernon Wells and Rafael Furcal.

The misses? Carlos Pena is a big one, as is Ruben Mateo. Both were top 5 prospects at one point. Drew Henson abandoned baseball for the NFL, and Sean Burroughs has been an everyday major leaguers, but not top 10 talent. Other than that, most position players who are highly-touted find a long career in the bigs.

The point? If I were running an organization, I would be looking for the next Pujols, and not the next Prior.


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