AL East Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Years of futility have helped the Orioles rebuild their team. While the fans have suffered through 12 straight losing seasons, the front office has used that to its advantage. High draft picks have led to a number of marquee players in the organization, many of whom will play a prominent role in 2010.


Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

After appearing in the ALCS two years in a row, the Orioles finished below .500 in 1998. At 79-83 they had the 13th worst record in the league. They also lost a number of free agents, netting them six of the first 50 picks in the 1999 draft. Five were busts. The only one that panned out was No. 50, a shortstop named Brian Roberts. It took a while for him to develop, but he took over second bas full time in 2004, and broke out in 2005. Once the subject of myriad trade rumors, Roberts now appears entrenched in the organization. He begins a four-year, $40 million extension this season. Unfortunately for the Orioles it appears he’ll open the season on the DL, but once he returns he’ll slide into one of the top lineup spots and likely provide his usual production.

While the Orioles didn’t get much out of their first five picks of the 1999 draft, they took a key player in the sixth round. There they selected left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard. Heading into the 2002 season he was the No. 90 prospect in baseball, and answered by posting a 1.97 ERA at AA Bowie. He did face some injury issues, though, which kept him out for much of the 2003 season. By 2004 he was with the big league club for good. His value to the current lineup, though, came after the 2007 season. The Orioles, with Andy MacPhail at the helm, traded him to the Bill Bavasi-led Mariners for, among other minor leaguers, Adam Jones, George Sherrill, and Chris Tillman.

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

Jones, a supplemental first round pick by the Mariners in 2003, has shown improvement during his first two years in Baltimore. He came with high expectations as the No. 28 prospect in baseball heading into the 2007 season, and in 2008 he played full time for the Orioles. He wasn’t great, posting just a .313 wOBA, but his value was still in his potential. He came closer to fulfilling that last season, posting a .343 wOBA. UZR rates him as positive over those two seasons, though we’re still dealing with a small sample. If he stays healthy again in 2010 we could see big things from Jones atop the Orioles lineup.

With their No. 7 pick in the 2003 draft the Orioles selected Nick Markakis. He spent just three seasons in the minors, and played zero games at AAA, before breaking camp with the team in 2006. Markakis had a stellar 2008, posting a .389 wOBA, a 23-point improvement over 2007. That was mostly due to a spike in his walk rate, up to 14.2 percent. That dropped back down to 7.9 percent in 2009, though, and Markakis’s wOBA fell 40 points to .349. It was an all-around down year for him, as his ISO fell 25 points and his UZR ranked in the negatives for the first time in his career. It’s tough to keep down a hitter like Markakis, though. I expect him to rebound to somewhere around his 2008 production this season, holding down the middle of the Orioles lineup.

In the second round of the 2005 draft the Orioles selected outfielder Nolan Reimold, who raked his way through the minors. After mastering AA in 2007 and 2008 he moved onto AAA in 2009, where he posted a .530 wOBA. The Orioles saw it fit to call him up and give him 411 plate appearances, in which he posted an impressive .365 wOBA. Yet he won’t get the start in left this season, as he had a poor spring after undergoing surgery to repair his left Achilles tendon. While he’ll eventually take over, Felix Pie will get a shot at every day at-bats to start the season. He definitely showed improvement in 2009, and could become a valuable role player, or trade bait, for the Orioles down the road.

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

Matt Wieters was a more highly regarded prospect than Mike Moustakas, Josh Vitters, and Daniel Moskokos, all of whom went before him in the 2007 draft. But Wieters is a Scott Boras client, and the Royals, Cubs, and Pirates apparently didn’t want to pay his bonus demands. The Orioles took advantage. He didn’t sign in time to play in 2007, but he more than made up for it in 2008, posting a 445 wOBA in advanced-A and then a .472 wOBA in AA. That earned him the top spot in Baseball America’s Top 100 for 2009. The Orioles opened him in AAA but called him up after 163 PA, installing him as their primary catcher. He hit well, though he didn’t quite live up to the considerable hype surrounding him. Even so he posted a .330 wOBA. Watch for him to break out in a big way this season.

Sometimes players come back to you. The Orioles traded Miguel Tejada before the 2008 season, four years after they signed him to a six-year, $72 million contract. He finished out the final two years in Houston, where he hit well but seemingly dropped off defensively, especially last season. With no multiyear offers and no teams willing to play him at shortstop, he re-signed with the Orioles this off-season as their primary third baseman. A player the Orioles received in the Tejada trade, Luke Scott, figures to be the primary DH. He posted a .343 wOBA in his first year, followed by .355 last year. He’s a man without a position, though, because the Orioles’ outfield is filled with younger, more promising players.

First base presents an interesting situation for the O’s. They signed Garrett Atkins this winter, who has steadily declined since his .410 wOBA in 2006. That number fell to .368, then to .337, and finally to .291 last season. He played pretty poor defense at third, though with Tejada on board the Orioles moved him across the diamond. He might not last long as the starter, though. Michael Aubrey, whom the Orioles acquired from the Indians for a PTBNL last June, could make a case for playing time, perhaps acting as a platoon partner. The O’s could eventually turn to Brandon Snyder, their No. 6 prospect. After hitting very well throughout the minors he stumbled a bit at AAA, so he’ll get a chance to get up to speed there. There’s also a chance, though I’m not sure how great, that the O’s could call up their No. 2 prospect, third baseman Josh Bell, acquired from the Dodgers for George Sherrill, and move Tejada to first.


Any rebuilding team needs to stock up on high-tier pitching prospects. The success rate from them is pretty low, so having a number of these pitchers means a greater chance that one or two will pitch in the bigs eventually. The Orioles feature a nice blend of veterans and youngsters, and as the year progresses they could perhaps insert another prospect or two into the rotation.

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP

Adding to the veteran presence atop the rotation, the Orioles traded for Kevin Millwood this off-season. They didn’t have illusions of him putting them over the top, of course. He was cheap, costing them just reliever Chris Ray and their Rule 5 pick, and he affords the Orioles more flexibility in developing their younger arms. For instance, with Millwood in the rotation the Orioles can afford to leave Chris Tillman in the minors to get a bit more seasoning. David Hernandez, who is a bit older and not as highly regarded a prospect, will take the final rotation spot. Again, the Orioles are lucky to have flexibility. I’ll save space here by pointing you to FanGraphs for more on the decision to start Hernandez in the rotation.

Jeremy Guthrie, formerly the staff ace, pitches behind Millwood this season. A 2002 first round pick by the Indians after being drafted in 1997 by the Mets and in 2001 by the Pirates, Guthrie did not live up to the hype in the minors. Out of options in 2007, the Indians waived him and the Orioles pounced. Guthrie rewarded them by improving his walk rate, which was the primary component in his revival. He posted ERAs of 3.70 and 3.63 during his first two years with the O’s, though those marks were out of line with his FIPs, 4.41 and 4.53. A spike in BABIP and fly ball rate led to more hits and home runs last season, and Guthrie’s ERA spiked to 5.04 against a 5.31 FIP. If he brings the ground balls back to his career level, though, he could see a bit of improvement in 2009, though I imagine he’ll be more around 4.50, as his FIPs from 2007 and 2008 indicated, rather than his mid-3s ERAs.

At my girlfriend’s sister’s rehearsal dinner last year I sat at a table with the bridesmaids and their dates. I didn’t know any of them, so I tried to work in a baseball conversation with the guy sitting next to me. Turns out he’s a huge Orioles fan and was impressed that I knew Brad Bergesen, who happened to be pitching that night against the Red Sox. (It was also the night that Joba dominated the A’s.) Bergesen, a fourth-round pick in 2004 and a high school teammate of Phil Hughes, came along slowly, but in 2008 he made great strides, leading to his call-up in 2009. A comebacker off the shin cut short his 2009 season, and a shoulder injury suffered while shooting a commercial caused a minor setback, but Bergesen has looked good this spring and will slot in behind Guthrie.

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

The Orioles shut down Brian Matusz in mid-September last year in order to keep him under his innings limit, which was apparently somewhere around 160. That also kept him under the 50 innings that would have erased his prospect status, so he checked in at No. 1 on the Orioles’ list this year. The No. 4 overall pick in 2008, Matusz signed late and missed the minor league season. His first full professional season, then, was 2009 and he cracked the Major League rotation. That should speak volumes about his potential. He features an above average fastball, curveball, and slider, and when an Orioles official said his changeup wasn’t up to par he made it the focus of his next start, throwing it more than 20 times. That’s a luxury he won’t have in the majors, though his above-average command of his other three pitches should help. The Orioles also laud his intelligence and intensity, which they think can help him top their rotation for years to come.

The name Mike Gonzalez might ring a bell for Yankees fans. During the 2006-2007 off-season it became clear that the Pirates would trade him, and rumors of a deal involving Melky Cabrera circulated. The Braves won out, though, sending Adam LaRoche to the Pirates and installing Gonzalez as their closer. That worked for 17 innings, after which Gonzalez underwent Tommy John surgery. He came back strong in 2008, minus a few too many home runs, and was even better in 2009. His walk rates in both seasons fell below his career average, and his strikeouts were above. Baltimore signed him to a two-year deal over the off-season, probably so he can actually hold down leads for the young pitchers. He might help out if the Orioles make a Rays-like run in 2011 as well.

The rest of the bullpen doesn’t appear strong at all. With Ray gone Jim Johnson will assume the primary setup role. He was excellent in 2008, throwing 68.2 innings and posting a 2.23 ERA and 3.38 FIP. That was completely unsustainable, though, as he allowed no home runs all year. That’s impressive, but most pitchers will allow home runs on about 10 percent of their fly balls. Johnson evened out and then some in 2009 with a 12.1 percent HR/FB. He does keep the ball on the ground and struck out 6.30 per nine innings. Behind him Mark Hendrickson will be the long man and Koji Uehara will slot in somewhere once he comes back from his hamstring issues. Matt Albers, Cla Meredith, and Alberto Castillo, among others, could get shots, but I don’t think the O’s are looking for the next big setup man among them.

Conclusion: Better than the Jays

The Orioles still have a way to go before they contend, though if they catch a few breaks they could make a run as early as 2011. After a dozen consecutive losing seasons, I’m sure their fan base can handle one more, especially with how this team is shaping up. They have two potential top of the rotation arms in the rotation to start the year and then have another who nearly cracked the Opening Day rotation. Beyond that their Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 prospects are all pitchers. If they head into next season with Matusz, Bergesen, and Tillman with one or two of those prospects in tow, we could see big things in 2011.

As for 2010, I’d say that unless something big goes wrong that the O’s will climb out of the AL East cellar and finish ahead of the Jays. I’ve done a lot of writing about the Jays this off-season, and while I do like their outlook, they’ve cleaned out the team for the time being. The Orioles have better hitting and better pitching in the current talent column, and really they have better future talent as well. The Jays are doing an admirable job in trying to correct J.P. Ricciardi’s mistakes, but with two financial powerhouses and two more well-run franchises residing in the same division they could find themselves in last place for a few years running. Hey, someone has to finish there.

2010 Draft: Draft Eligible Sophomores

The Indians failed to sign Tim Lincecum as a DES in

Major League Baseball’s amateur draft has some pretty quirky criteria for eligibility. If you graduated high school but haven’t attended college, you’re eligible. If you have a high school diploma and go to a four year school, you have to wait until age-21 to go back in, but if you go to a two year school you can re-enter the next year. Heck, if you’re 18-years-old and have your GED, you can be drafted as a high school junior like Jeremy Bonderman was. Trust me, there’s even more craziness that I don’t care to get into.

For the purposes of this post, all you need to know is that any four year college player who turns 21-years-old within 45 days of the draft is eligible to be selected, regardless of class. Most players don’t meet this criteria until their junior or senior years, but some make it earlier, hence draft eligible sophomores. Every so often you’ll see a draft eligible freshman, like Royals’ 2009 fourth rounder Chris Dwyer out of Clemson (the Yanks drafted him out of high school in 2008), but those guys are few and very far between.

Because they have the opportunity to go back to school for their junior year and re-enter the draft the next summer, DES’s have more negotiating leverage than most college draftees. A college junior can’t pull that trick because if they go back and complete their senior year, they’re out of college eligibility and will have absolutely no leverage in negotiations. Kentrail Davis, the top DES last year, received an over slot $1,200,000 bonus from the Brewers as the 39th overall pick, which is pretty typical for these kind of players.

As you probably guessed, DES’s have a better chance of falling in the draft due to signability. The Yankees took advantage of this to land Graham Stoneburner in the 14th round last year, giving him a well above slot $675,000 bonus to turn pro. This year’s crop of DES’s features one possible top ten pick and one really intriguing arm for later on in day one of the draft, so let’s dive in…

Cole Cook, RHP, Pepperdine
A semi-local kid who was born in New York City but later moved to Southern California, Cook ‘s father spent ten years on Broadway before making the jump to television and moving his family west in the late-90’s.. He goes by the screen name of Peter MacKenzie, and based on his IMDB page, chances are you’ve seen him in something. But I digress.

Cole took a redshirt as a freshman in 2008, then emerged as the team’s best arm the next season. He led the Waves in wins (7), innings pitched (83), strikeouts (79), batting average against (.195), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.95) in 2009, which earned him a spot on the All-WCC Freshman Team and the Louisville Slugger All-Freshman Team. Coming into the spring as the team’s ace, Cook has posted a 3.55 ERA (~2.20 FIP) with a 39-11 K/BB ratio in 45.2 innings over six starts this season.

Big and strong at 6-foot-6 and 220 lbs., Cook’s best pitch is his 91-93 mph fastball that runs back in on righties. He backs it up with low-80’s changeup and a pair of breaking balls: a sharp high-70’s slider and big loopy curveball. Both breaking balls are kinda sketchy, and chances are he’ll have to scrap the curve all together so he can focus on developing the slider down the road. Despite low walk totals and good control, Cook has to iron out his mechanics to firm up his stuff and be more consistent with his pitches in general. He uses a lower arm slot, something similar to Justin Masterson, which a) makes him very tough on righties, and b) is further reason to go with the slider. His makeup is off the charts, as he uses his older brother’s battle with leukemia for motivation.  Cook is considered a second round talent at the moment, but could easily pitch his way into first round consideration or bonus demand his way down to the double digit rounds.

Photo Credit: Phil Coale, AP

Zack Cox, 3B, Arkansas
Arguably the top college hitter in the draft (NHD), Cox was part of the impressive crop of Kentucky high schoolers that featured four top three rounds talent in 2008. With all due respect to Robbie Ross, Danny Webb, and Nick Maronde, Cox is clearly the best of the group, and that was obvious even after he hit .266-.342-.558 as a freshman (solid, but unspectacular for a top college prospect). The righty hitter has displayed hitting prowess this spring, leading the Razorbacks in basically every offensive category with a .435-.527-.641 line and nearly twice as many walks (18) as strikeouts (10).

A shortstop in his younger years, Cox slid over to third base and may or may not stay there long-term. Regardless of where he ends up in the field, his bat will play. With supreme contact skills and an advanced approach, Cox is a good bet to hit for a high average and post strong on-base percentages in the future, though his power is more likely to come in the form of doubles than homers.  He’s pretty much maxed out physically at an even six feet and 215 lbs., so there’s not much projection left. What you see is what you’re going to get, and that’s a great hitter. He’s a top ten talent, and it’s unlikely the added leverage of being a DES will drop him to the bottom of the first round.

One more DES worth mentioning is Mark Canha of Cal, who brings defensive versatility and a well-rounded offensive game to the table. He’s similar to Xavier Nady, another Berkeley product, and has hit .368-.467-.529 while being a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base chances this year. Capable of playing the outfield, Canha has been stationed at first base this year in deference to more athletic outfielders. He’s expected to be a mid-round talent, somewhere in the 5th to 8th round range, but could easily fall more if teams don’t think he’s worth his asking price.

Given their perpetual spot near the end of the first round, the Yankees have to use other avenues to acquire top talent. While high schoolers are most commonly associated with the concept of signability, DES’s also bring some talent to table. Cox may be a bit of a pipe dream, but Cook is a very interesting arm that could be available by time the team’s third or fourth pick comes around.

Spring Training Game Thread: Twins vs. Yankees, in progress

We were a little delayed in getting up the game thread this afternoon as Joe, Mike and I were enjoying lunch and didn’t realize YES had picked up today’s game. So we’ll join this ALDS rematch between the Yanks and Twins now in progress.

Phil Hughes, the fifth starter, is facing the Twins, and he had a rocky first inning. He allowed a pair of runs on two hits and a walk but still struck out two. While batting, Denard Span took out his mother with a foul ball, but she seemed to be okay. I don’t have the pitchers scheduled to follow Phil, but Hughes is set for a good long outing. This is his final tune-up of the spring, but the Yanks have not yet announced when he will start in April.

Jeter SS
Thames DH
Posada C
Rodriguez 3B
Swisher RF
Granderson CF
Gardner LF
Pena 2B
Miranda 1B

Hughes P

2010 Season Preview: Settling into the new digs

When we wrapped up the 2009 season, I gave the new Yankee Stadium a mostly positive review. The team, after all, had just captured a World Series trophy in its first year in the new home and had enjoyed a significant home field advantage. They drew 3.7 million fans and won 64 home games while losing just 25 over the course of the regular season and the playoffs. The stadium itself can be the team’s 26th man on the roster.

The 2009 team’s offensive splits belie the stadium advantage. At home, the lineup hit .284/.368/.490 with 136 home runs. On the road, the team hit .283/.355/.466 with 108 home runs. At least as the ball flies over the fence, the new stadium helped the Yankees.

But despite the tropes of a hitter’s paradise, the new stadium depressed extra-base hits. The Yankees hit far more doubles on the road, and triples at the new park were few and far between. When the dust settled, the new stadium played as a pitcher’s park. So now, as Yankee Stadium gets ready for year number two, what can we expect?

On the field, we’ll be able to tally more data on the trends of the park. We can say, as I did, that after one season, pitchers who aren’t extreme fly-ballers should enjoy pitching at the stadium, but the year two data could be completely different. We can say that left-handed batters with a nice power stroke will hit a lot of home runs into those alluringly short right field seats, and we’d probably be right. Yet, as the Yankees have loaded up a lineup heavy on lefties, a second year of data will hopefully help the team make that case.

Meanwhile, a key claim from earlier last year will be put to the test as well. As home runs were flying out of Yankee Stadium and meteorologists were positing wind patterns, some commentators started to blame the old stadium for the home run-happy jet streams. As the old stadium meets the wrecking ball and will be but rubble by late June, the team will see if the winds do indeed change. Color me skeptical.

But the stadium’s impact goes beyond the way it plays for the team. It is also the home for the fans, and although I yearn for the countless seasons I spent at the House that Ruth Built, I’ll spend the bulk of my life attending games at the House that George Built. What needs to go right then for the Yankees to enjoy another year of crowds above three million, constant sell-outs and a content fan base?

What the Yankees should do is again make the ballpark more fan-friendly. The team should allow young fans the chance to watch batting practice from as close to the field as possible. The team should do away with that moat that separates the Legends Suites from the rest of the park at least until an hour before the game starts. The team should relax its security guards and make fans feel welcome instead of threatened if they happen to step into the wrong section or look at someone halfway cross-eyed. The team should also sell more of those standing-room only seats. I watched Game 2 of the ALDS from SRO in the Main Level, and I will remember it forever. Fans stopped by to chat, and we were ecstatic as A-Rod‘s and later Mark Teixeira‘s home runs brought the Yanks a victory.

And yet, we hear tales of the Yankees making the park a little less accessible. They seem to be offering standing room tickets at all levels only for a select bunch of premium games. They’re going to allow fans in for batting practice two hours before first pitch this year instead of three as they did last year. There goes the opportunity to watch most of the Yankees take BP. As NYY Stadium Insider notes, this move aligns the Yankees with the rest of the league, and staffing concerns may warrant it. But it simply limits access.

Of course, those are but minor gripes. Unlike the Mets, the Yankees didn’t have to fix glaring omissions of history at their ballpark, and the team had a relatively smooth first year at the new stadium. I expect to 2010 to offer more of the same and more wins at home. I didn’t warm up to the new park until late in the season, and I still have a tough time accepting it as the permanent home of the New York Yankees. But it is, after all, tough to argue with the World Series. Can the stadium deliver two in two years?

How highly rated were the Yankees as prospects?

Every year Baseball America releases its Top 100 Prospects. You can check out this year’s list here. They’ve done this for years and years, dating all the way back to 1990. It’s a reality of baseball that some top prospects will bust, while other players will become stars while barely grazing a prospect list. It made me wonder where the current Yankees ranked on BA’s prospect list. Thankfully, Baseball Reference now lists a player’s peak rankings on its minor league player pages, so we can see how highly the BA crew thought of the team as they grew up.

Alex Rodriguez: No. 1 in 1995

Before he took his first professional swing, BA rated A-Rod the No. 6 prospect in baseball. A year later, after he dominated three minor league levels, they moved him to No. 1. He actually made his debut in 1994, again during his first professional season. No Yankee has more Major League service time than A-Rod.

Mark Teixeira: No. 1 in 2003

After checking in as the No. 10 prospect before the 2002 season, Teixeira climbed all the way to No. 1 in 2003. He broke camp with the Rangers that year and began his journey to stardom.

Joba Chamberlain: No. 3 in 2008

Behind just Jay Bruce and Evan Longoria, Joba was the top pitching prospect a year after he convinced everyone he was a natural born reliever. I think that if Baseball America had ranked him as a reliever Clay Buchholz would have been No. 3 that year.

Derek Jeter: No 4 in 1995

After drafting him with the sixth overall pick in 1992, the Yankees signed Jeter in time for him to accumulate 237 PA that year. He debuted on BA’s Top 100 as the No. 46 prospect, and then climbed to No. 16 the following year. He peaked in 1995 at No. 4, dropping to No. 6 before his breakout 1996 season.

Phil Hughes: No. 4 in 2007

Just before the birth of RAB, Baseball America named Phil Hughes the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball. The 2007 Yankees had plenty of pitching problems, including a hamstring injury that kept Chien-Ming Wang on the DL all of April. Chase Wright got smacked around, so when the Yankees needed a starter in late April they called on Hughes. That is still his best season as a starter.

Nick Johnson: No. 5 in 2000

After two years of absolutely mashing the ball in the minors, Johnson climbed all the way to the No. 5 overall prospect in 2000. He missed that entire season, though, which dropped him to No. 10 in 2001. He fell another three spots in 2002, to No. 13. He was the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect from 1999 through 2001, dropping to No. 2 in 2002, behind Drew Henson.

CC Sabathia: No. 7 in 2001

The 20th pick in the 1998 draft, Sabathia pitched well enough in 1999 to make BA’s Top 100, debuting at No. 57. After again pitching well in 2000 he jumped to No. 7 — and to the majors. He pitched 180.1 innings that year, taking away his rookie status. He was Cleveland’s No. 1 prospect in 2000 and 2001.

Chan Ho Park: No. 14 in 1994

A year after the Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent in 1994 Baseball America rated him the No. 14 overall prospect. He walked a few too many hitters at AA, but produced results. Still, that moved him to the No. 41 prospect overall in 1995. After a season in which he posted a 4.91 ERA at AAA Baseball America ranked him the No. 18 prospect in 1996. Strangely, he didn’t make the Dodgers’ 1994 Top 10 list. That honor belonged to Darren Dreifort.

A.J. Burnett: No. 20 in 2000

An eighth round pick by the Mets in 1995, Burnett never cracked even the team Top 10. Before he could break out the Mets traded him to Florida in the Al Leiter deal. That very season he killed A ball for the Marlins, striking out 14.1 batters per nine innings. That earned him the No. 21 spot on BA’s Top 100 in 1999. He moved up one spot after a rough 1999 season in AA, but then went up to the Marlins and exhausted his rookie status that season. He was Florida’s No. 1 prospect in 1999 and 2000.

Nick Swisher: No. 24 in 2005

Swisher was, now famously, picked in the first round of the 2002 draft by an overly excited Billy Beane. He didn’t make the Top 100 heading into the 2003 season, and didn’t even make a list before the 2004 season despite working his way up to AA in 2003. He was Oakland’s No. 6 prospect that year, and he was No. 1 in 2005.

Andy Pettitte: No. 49 in 1995

A No. 49 overall ranking isn’t bad for a 22nd-round draft pick. He certainly earned the distinction, though. Over 608 minor league innings Pettitte posted a 2.46 ERA and earned a call-up in late April 1995. He was the Yankees’ No. 3 prospect that year after ranking No. 7 in 1994.

Curtis Granderson: No. 57 in 2005

The Tigers grabbed Granderson in the third round in 2002 and signed him pretty quickly. He dominated in his 240 PA, posting a .344/.417/.495 line at low-A ball. He took the system a level a year after that, posting good numbers at A+ before destroying AA in 2004. That earned him the No. 57 spot on BA’s list before the 2005 season, when he was also the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect.

Javy Vazquez: No. 83 in 1998

He had to repeat the Sally league in 1996 after posting a 5.08 ERA in 1995, but Vazquez cruised through the minors from there. He broke camp with the Expos in 1998, the year he was named the No. 83 overall prospect in baseball. The only place I can find the team rankings is at The Baseball Cube, but they do not have the 1998 prospect list for the Expos/Nationals.

Robinson Cano: N/A

Cano was considered one of the Yankees’ top prospects by 2004, though it wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on the Top 100, even after a relatively impressive 2004 season. BA rated him the Yankees’ No. 2 prospect headed into 2005, behind Eric Duncan.

Jorge Posada: N/A

No, Jorge Posada never made a BA Top 100 list. He peaked in 1995 as the No. 7 prospect in the Yankees’ system. That’s not uncommon for a 24th-round pick who OBP’d just above .300 in his third professional season.

Marcus Thames: N/A

Again, it’s unsurprising that Thames missed the BA Top 100 list. He was a 30th round pick who came out of nowhere to post a .321/.410/.598 line in 2001. That earned him the No. 7 spot on the Yankees’ 2002 prospect list, but not Top 100.

Al Aceves: N/A

But he was the Yankees’ No. 7 prospect in 2009 after impressing in 2008.

Brett Gardner: N/A

Gardner, a 2005 third round pick, never made a Top 100. His speed tantalized scouts, but his bat did not. He diligently worked his way through the Yankees’ system, though, reaching AAA by 2007. He was ranked the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect heading into the 2008 season, when he exhausted his rookie eligibility.

Randy Winn: N/A

Winn was never a top prospect, and his minor league numbers make it clear why that’s the case. A third round pick in 1995 by the Marlins, he was the team’s No. 8 prospect the following season, but after a disappointing 1996 season he fell off. By the time he started to hit in the minors he had already exhausted his rookie eligibility.

Mariano Rivera: N/A

He had a 2.35 ERA in his minor league career, but this 1990 amateur signee never made a Top 100. He was No. 9 on the Yankees’ prospect list in 1993 and then again in 1995. He was a starter throughout the minors, making 14 relief appearances in 1991 and then never again. Not even in a 2002 rehab appearance. He pitched two innings to start a game in rookie ball an that was it.

Damaso Marte: N/A

Nor did he ever make a team Top 10, as far as I can tell.

David Robertson: N/A

The 2006 17th-round pick made his pro debut in 2007, stifling the competition in the Sally and Florida State leagues. After tackling AA and AAA in 2008 he made his major league debut, but he really made strides in 2009. He could play a prominent role in the bullpen in 2010.

Ramiro Pena: N/A

Not only that, but he also never appeared in a Yankees’ Top 10. Hell, he didn’t even make John Sickels’s Top 21 in 2009.

Francisco Cervelli: N/A

Same deal as Pena. No Top 10 Yanks, not even Sickels’s Top 21 in 2009.

Sergio Mitre: N/A

The Cubs drafted Mitre in the seventh round of the 2001 draft and watched him pitch pretty well through the minors. Not well enough to ever make the Cubs’ Top 10 prospects, but well.

Looking at A-Rod’s spray charts from 2009

At this time last year the Yankees had a big problem on their hands. Their third baseman and best hitter had just undergone surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. He’d miss at least a month, and after that would need time to work back into playing mode. His spring training was essentially his rehab process, which deprived him of at-bats against live pitching. Still, a recovering A-Rod is better than a healthy Cody Ransom, so the Yankees were glad to have him back.

By the numbers, the injury seemed to only affect A-Rod’s batting average upon his return. From May 8 through the All-Star break he hit .256/.411/.548. His power was clearly there, as his .292 ISO shows. Still, there had to be concern about that low batting average. A-Rod was a career .306 hitter heading into last year and had hit .302 in 2008. While he did compensate with an OBP and ISO that outpaced his career marks, A-Rod’s value comes from his all-around abilities. Taking away the hit for average tool would not be good news.

Here’s his spray chart from May 8 through the All-Star break:

The distribution seems relatively even, though it looks like everything he hit to right field went for an out. This might signal a pull tendency from A-Rod, but you can see in this chart that pitchers definitely pitched him inside, presumably testing that hip. There’s also a typical cluster down and away. Perhaps A-Rod was just chasing that down and away stuff, leading to poorly hit balls to right, thus explaining the trend we see on the spray chart.

Before going to A-Rod’s post-break spray chart, let’s see how he fared in his mostly healthy 2008 season:

That appears to be awfully similar to the pre-break 2009 chart. Pitchers’ tendencies to pitch him inside also remained consistent. This is where Hit F/X will come in handy. Instead of having a simple breakdown of where balls in play landed, we’ll see how hard each ball was hit, and at what trajectory. That might explain why A-Rod’s batting average dipped markedly while his spray chart looked pretty much the same.

Now for the post-break spray chart:

And, again, we don’t see too much difference here, either. The field looks more filled-in because A-Rod got more post-break at bats. It also seems like he dunked in a few more hits to shallow center. Yet despite the similarities in his pre- and post-break charts he hit .310/.394/.518 in the second half. His power fell off as his average rose and OBP dropped. Again, it seems like there were other factors, such as trajectory and velocity, that played into A-Rod’s performance, rather than where he hit the ball.

Just to get a better look, here’s A-Rod’s 2009 chart:

Look at the 2008 and 2009 charts next to each other if you can. I wonder how much of the difference comes from playing in a different home park with different power alleys. That’s certainly something to consider in this case.

Bronx Banter Breakdown on the Yanks’ offense

Last week, Alex Belth of Bronx Banter asked me to join him and Cliff Corcoran on his SportsNet NY web-only video series Bronx Banter Breakdown. In the first installment posted yesterday, we talked about pitching. In the second installment, available today, we talked about the Yanks’ offense and what we expect out of a team that is primed to score a lot of runs this year. Check it out below.