In advance of the release of The Bill James Handbook 2009, the venerable baseball analysts has released his list of the top young talent in baseball. James has also put forward a ranking of the Major League clubs by top young Major League talent, and the Yankees aren’t looking so hot with the team ranked 29 out of 30.
According to ACTA Sports, publishers of the Handbook, these rankings include players 30 and younger:
To achieve his inventory, James first eliminates from the list all players who were 30 years old or older in 2008. He employs two widely used statistics—“Runs Created” for position players and “Runs Allowed” for pitchers—as the basis for comparison. He makes several adjustments, including for injuries suffered during the year and the differences in predictability between pitchers and position players, and then takes into account the number of years the player should be at his peak performance.
Of course, it doesn’t take a baseball genius to recognize the Yankees’ young-gun problems. Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano turned in disappointing 2008 campaigns; Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy didn’t meet the lofty expectations placed upon them; and even Joba Chamberlain suffered a lengthy stay on the disabled list.
As the Yankees head into free agency, this list should be a part of their considerations. Five of the top 15 and three of the top ten youngest teams made the playoffs this year, and if the Yanks don’t get marked older, they’ll suffer through some pretty bad seasons over the next few years.
The full franchise rankings and James’ top 25 young players are after the jump.
While Yankee officials are set to appear before a Congressional subcommittee this week to discuss land-valuation concerns, the IRS has paved the way for the team to wrap up the financing of their stadium construction. The Times reports that the IRS will allow the teams to float tax-exempt bonds. The politicians won’t like it, but the new rule should limit this practice of doling out money to rich entities in the future. · (11) ·
In a rather tersely worded missive, the AP reports that the Yanks and Cubs may inaugurate the new Yankee Stadium with an exhibition series during the first weekend in April. The official home opener is set for April 16 when the Indians come to town. I wonder which luminary the Yanks will tab to toss out the ceremonial first pitch at the new digs. · (34) ·
New York is not Tampa Bay or even Philadelphia. In New York, our baseball team — or, at least, the one that plays in the Bronx — features the highest payroll around and is expected to win everything every year. But south down I-95, they do things a little slower and with a different philosophy than we do.
In Philadelphia, the Phillies have long enjoyed underdog status. They have just one World Series title in their 100-plus years of existence. While they drew the fifth most fans in the game this year, they had a payroll of just — just — $95 million, good for 13th overall. They’re not big players on the free agent market.
Rather, this team has succeeded by building up a core of talented players they’ve drafted and filling in around them. With Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard around the horn, they have an infield of homegrown stars. With Pat Burrell in left and Brett Myers and Cole Hamels on the mound, their most important cogs were all Philadelphia draft picks. In a way, this team is constructed in the mold of the 1996 Yankees with Brad Lidge playing the role of John Wetteland.
Tampa, a team with no fans and limited financial resources outside of those given to them through MLB’s revenue sharing system, has taken this model to the extreme. Their team features nearly an entire lineup of homegrown young stars and former top-round draft picks. Their free agent pick-ups — Troy Percival, Cliff Floyd, Carlos Peña — are there because 29 other teams passed on them. And somehow, they’re favored to win a World Series against a team with a payroll more than twice Tampa’s.
These teams are lessons in staying the course as they work to develop top prospects into Major League stars. Unlike the Yankees, these teams are constrained by their finances. The Phillies and Rays can’t go out and sign a CC Sabathia if their Ian Kennedy equivalent doesn’t pursue the path imagined for him. But they can still provide us with examples of what happens when front offices have a plan and are patient.
Over the last 19 months, we’ve tried to preach a New York version of that course. Sometimes, we’ve been right; sometimes, we’ve been wrong. It comes with the Minor League territory. But there’s no reason why the Yankees can’t attempt to rebuild a team in the mold they set for themselves 14 years ago.
Now, this doesn’t mean the Yanks should forego a Mark Teixeira because they have the Juan Mirandas of the world at AAA. One is hardly a suitable replacement for the other. But the Yanks shouldn’t pull the trigger on a trade that they’ll regret. Just ask the Phillies; I’m sure they’d love to have Gavin Floyd back.
For the next few days, the World Series will be the be-all and end-all of baseball. A-Rod has already opted out of his marriage, and he’s locked into his contract for ten years. So just sit back and enjoy the ride. While you’re doing so, appreciate how the Phillies and Rays combined patience and a farm system to get where they are today. If the Yanks can do this, with their resources to fill the holes, they could return to the dynastic levels they enjoyed a decade ago. And with the free agent signing period just ahead, this path could materialize sooner rather than later.
AzFL Peoria (18-11 win over the other Peoria)
Kevin Russo: 1 for 2, 2 RBI, 1 BB – pinch ran for Milwaukee prospect Taylor Green after he was a pitch … you may recognize that name; Green is one of the two players the Indians could have selected as the fourth guy in the Sabathia trade, but they went with Michael Brantley instead
Austin Jackson: 3 for 6, 1 R, 2 RBI – 9 for his last 24 (.375)
Jeff Marquez: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 24 of 47 pitches were strikes (51.1%)
HWB Waikiki (7-2 lead over West Oahu in the 5th) all Yanks’ prospects have already exited the game, hence the early post
Austin Romine: 0 for 0, 1 HBP – left the game with an arm/wrist injury after the HBP … not sure how serious it is, but he’s got all winter to get better if need be
Andrew Brackman: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 5-4 GB/FB – 48 of 81 pitches were strikes (59.3%) … his control is slowly coming back, but he threw a first pitch strike to only 11 of 20 batters … he had men on 1st & 3rd with one out in the 3rd, but the guy on third was thrown out trying to steal home, and then the guy on first was tagged out in a rundown to get Brackman out of the inning
AzFL Peoria (4-2 win over the other Peoria)
Austin Jackson: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 HBP
Juan Miranda: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB – what, no extra base hits?
Kevin Russo: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 HBP, 1 SB
Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – only 8 of 16 pitches were strikes (50%)
HWB Waikiki was off Monday.
Here’s some highlights for the guys playing winter ball in the Caribbean:
Matt Carson: 2 for 13 (.154), 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 SB in 3 games (DR)
Justin Christian: 7 for 33 (.212), 4 R, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 6 K, 6 SB in 8 games (Mex)
Reegie Corona: 3 for 7 (.429), 2 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K in 3 games (DR)
Victor Zambrano: 11 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 K in 2 starts (VZ)- say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?
Check it out. WCBS 880 AM has a gallery of Shea Stadium destruction pictures. While the new Yankee Stadium now has grass, Shea no longer has seats. Objectively, I’ve always enjoyed pictures like this, and I have no emotional attachment to the Mets or Shea. When, however, the crews start tearing down Yankee Stadium, the photos will be bittersweet indeed.
So notes Frank Della Femina. Personally, I’d much rather see Derek Lowe in a Boston uniform than in a Yankee uniform as well. There are bigger fish to catch than Lowe, and Andy Pettitte and/or Mike Mussina can do Lowe’s job for less money and fewer years. Pass. · (43) ·
The rosters for the Rising Stars Showcase, essentially the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game, have been released, with the two most obvious Yanks’ farmhands making the National Team. The game is this Friday at 7:15pm local time (10:15 on the east coast), and Phil Hughes will get the start against the Braves’ Tommy Hanson. There’s a good chance the game will be on MiLB.tv, but we won’t know for sure until Friday comes. It will definitely be available on Gameday, though. · (44) ·
One of my favorite free features of Baseball America is their minor leagues tractions column. This usually comes out weekly, and contains items such as reassignments, releases, and signings. There are a couple of tidbits in this week’s edition that are worth at least glancing at, especially in this time of baseball news lull.
For starters, the Yanks have but one transaction. They have granted Billy Traber free agency. Whoo-pee. Signing him last winter was a decent idea, but it never worked out. In the end, he took up a roster spot for a bit too long, on account of his throwing with his left arm. Perhaps some other team will give him a shot next spring.
The Rockies released 2B Jayson Nix. After losing Kaz Matsui to the Astros last winter, the Rox had a few candidates to take over at second, among them Nix, whose older brother Laynce is also a free agent. The now 26-year-old’s run didn’t go so well, as he owned an ugly .111/.216/.133 line when he was finally benched on April 25. He returned for a few games in July and picked up just two hits in 10 plate appearances. He did excel in the minors, though, posting a .303/.373/.591 line in AAA in 2008, after a .292/.342/.451 line in 2007. Note, though, that this is the league in which Bubba Crosby hit .361/.414/.635 in 277 at bats in 2003.
The Angels parted ways with reliever Chris Bootcheck, their first round pick in 2000. He’s never excelled at the major league level, though his only prolonged appearances was in 2007, when he posted 77.1 innings to the tune of a 4.77 ERA. Considering he’s 30 and hasn’t had much minor league success, I can’t see him getting anything beyond a minor league deal heading into ’09. With the Yanks bullpen depth, a flier like this doesn’t seem worth it.
The Phillies have pulled the plug on the Chris Snelling experiment. Here’s another story of a guy with potential who just couldn’t stay healthy. Philadelphia was his fourth team in the past three years, and it doesn’t seem like anyone would give him more than a Spring Training invite. I don’t think he’d fit with the Yankees, but he’ll get a chance somewhere.
The Giants surprisingly released 28-year-old Kevin Correia. He had a rough time this year, posting a 6.05 ERA in 110 innings over 19 starts. I know Mike mentioned liking his arm. His problem, as it is with so many pitchers, is with the walks. Just too many, even though he misses a decent number of bats. There is some hope that he’ll rebound a bit in 2009, and can be at the bottom of a team’s rotation, or possibly out of the bullpen. If all it takes is a Spring Training invite, I don’t see why you wouldn’t take a chance.
(On a side note, the Giants also released Scott McClain, who has hit 287 minor league home runs.)
Perhaps the most interesting name on the list is now-former Blue Jay Gustavo Chacin. He was solid in his 203 innings in 2005, but couldn’t stay healthy after that. That wasn’t a massive jump from his 168 innings in 2004, though he did make the leap from 69 innings in 2003 (he had previously topped out at 140 in 2001). He was neither healthy nor effective in 2006 and 2007, and didn’t make the majors in 2008 after shoulder surgery. He posted a 7.88 ERA down in the Florida State League, over 45.2 IP. He hasn’t posed an ERA below 7.45 at any minor league stop since 2004. Yet he throws left-handed, so he’ll surely get at least an audition in 2009.
So crap, crap, and more crap. Is there anyone on the scrap heap worth looking at?
In a Monday Morning Ten-Pack that features a glowing review of Jose Tabata and a guarded report on Jeremy Bleich, Kevin Goldsmith at Baseball Prospectus questions Phil Hughes. Since a BP subscription is required for the whole piece, I’ll excerpt:
At this point, Hughes is just massively confusing. His 2007 looked to be his breakout campaign, but then he severely pulled a hamstring while going for a no-hitter against Texas. This year, it was a strained oblique that hampered him, and since his return from it, he’s been either awesome or awful, depending on the day, and we have no real reason why he’s just one or the other. That trend has continued so far in the Arizona Fall League. In his first start for Peoria, he walked five in five innings, but also allowed just one hit while striking out seven and left scouts drooling. On Saturday, he allowed eight runs on seven hits while failing to get out of the third inning, and left scouts confused as to whether this was even the same pitcher they’d seen 11 days before. It’s hard to find somebody with more varied reports on him at this point.
Hughes is still just 22 and still has stuff that ranks him up with the pitching prospects in the Majors. However, he’s going to have to put it together soon.
Next season will be his fifth in professional baseball, and his Minor League numbers are off the charts. He now has to put it together at the Big League level while staying healthy. There’s no reason to think he can’t do that, and there’s no reason to think that his start on Saturday was simply an aberration. But as time ticks on, the Yanks’ patience will wane.